Dunkirk is the newest film from director Christopher Nolan. Dunkirk does away with the science fiction genre that has driven Nolan’s last two original projects, Inception and Interstellar.
Instead Dunkirk focuses on the 1940 evacuation of the Allied troops from Dunkirk beaches during the Second World War. Dunkirk follows three different strands; a young soldier (Fionn Whitehead) on the beach seeking to escape, the captain of a small boat (Mark Rylance) coming from Dorset as part of the rescue attempt, and a fighter pilot (Tom Hardy) combating enemy planes above them.
Christopher Nolan has spoken several times about how much he values the cinematic experience, and it is clear that he created Dunkirk to be a film that had to be seen on the big screen. Everything about Dunkirk is done to immerse you in the events, and to make you feel the tension of the situation, it was even the first feature film to use handheld IMAX cameras.
And boy does it work brilliantly. You wouldn’t describe Dunkirk as a thriller, but it is a more thrilling and intense experience than most thrillers. You feel so immersed in every scene, and that’s down to Nolan’s brilliant direction on the film. He gets right into the action at so many points, and authentically created the most of the sequences, rather than relying on CGI. It’s a brilliant directorial effort, and is right up there with Memento for the skill with which Nolan handles it.
The other major contributing factor to how immersive Dunkirk is the sound. From gunshots that feel as though they are flying past your head to plane engines that inspire a feeling of dread the sound mixing and editing is superb. Similarly the score from Hans Zimmer is excellent. His work with Nolan has given us some wonderful scores before, but this may just be their best collaboration. The use of ticking clock motif in it really gave the film a sense of urgency, and the feeling that time was running out.
Although speaking of time, it quickly becomes clear that the film is non linear and the three storylines are happening at the same time, with each story taking place over a week, a day, and an hour respectively. Whilst this does all come together toward the end of the film it feels like a slightly unnecessary gimmick, and felt annoying rather than adding to the film.
Another big complaint a lot of people have had with the film is that the characters are extremely thin. But really that’s the point. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t much depth to any of the characters because this makes them an everyman. It could be anyone in that situation, these are just ordinary people who were stuck in this horrible situation, and Dunkirk is more about the collective heroism of them, than the individuals.
The problem that this does create is that there are not any real opportunities for great acting performances. As a result the hugely talented cast feels a little wasted. Mark Rylance and Cillian Murphy still manage to stand out, but wonderful actors such as Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, etc just don’t get the chance to shine like they are capable of.
There is also a concern that Dunkirk may not hold up as well outside of cinemas. On home video the immersion, and as a result the intensity, may be lost. But it would be unfair to mark the film down for a future possibility, it would just be recommended to see it whilst you can in cinemas, and the best format possible. It is certain worth shilling out those extra couple of bucks for an IMAX screening.