Written and Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy.
I’m still trying to figure out the feeling, that swell in the chest I felt while watching Dunkirk. Whether it was pride or love of humanity or patriotism, Dunkirk was an emotive intersection of timelines during Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of troops from, Dunkirk, France, during World War II.
The film focuses on three different Fronts from:
1. The mole: Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) the soldier who’s been on the ground for a week;
2. To the steadfast Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) for a day;
3. To Farrier (Tom Hardy) the pilot of a Spitfire in the air for an hour.
All of these men are fighting the same war and all of these men are either trying to escape or save the men surrounded by the Sickle Cut (war strategy) the German forces have maneuvered on French soil; the Allied forces stranded on the beach where they desperately wait for ships to take them back to Britain, just across the channel:
Commander Bolton: You can practically see it from here.
Captain Winnant: What?
Commander Bolton: Home.
With leaflets falling from the sky depicting the hopelessness of their effort to escape – an arrow pointing: ‘You are here’, surrounded by the enemy and literally being pushed into the sea only to be picked off by fighter pilots dropping bombs, the soldiers watch battleships sink, one after the other to then watch the tide bring in the dead.
But this film isn’t about blood and guts, Dunkirk is about celebrating the small victories and how all those victories eventually add up.
Hence that swell in the chest because there’s this overriding feeling of people doing the best they can and somehow the everyday civilian can make all the difference: Sometimes doing right, wins.
Take that notion and add the suspense of the desperation to escape, full credit going to Hans Zimmer and his soundtrack creating tension with music like a ticking time-bomb. Director and writer, Christopher Nolan uses little dialogue, instead it’s about the words unspoken, just a nod here and the audience knowing the music is building.
There’s a simplicity to each scene combining the different threads of storyline in real time like a formula pulled together by sound: the low thud of bombs, the droning of jets, the running of boots on sand and bullets popping through the hull of a ship like copper coins hitting tin. There’s much to be said about the soundtrack, but watching the film on IMAX with that big square screen? Can I say it didn’t really need it? But what am I saying, go see that expanse of beach and ocean on IMAX – why not?
The effort to film the movie on 65mm film (transferred to 70mm for projection) brings the story to life all the more, leaving little room for error. Dunkirk is such a solid film, with such beautifully orchestrated performances (was also a win to see Harry Styles finally get a haircut!) to see the views from air to the beach to under the water on such a large screen just added more to an already impressive project.
Lastly, I just want to say I usually struggle with war films. The reality of the violence of war makes my blood boil. I love the fact that there’s no unnecessary violence here. We all know what happens when a bomb goes off. We don’t need to see or imagine our ancestors or grandparents getting blown apart.
Nolan has used his talent to bring the true story of Dunkirk to the screen without over-dramatising, allowing us to admire the courage and valour of the civilians of Britain who saved more than 330, 000 soldiers’ lives.