Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cllian Murphy, Tom Hardy
How many times can Chris outdo himself?
Life can deal you such cruel hands. I am the biggest Christopher Nolan fan so I’ve been excitedly awaiting Dunkirk ever since it was announced three years ago. I’ve been avoiding every trailer and every clip in fear of needless spoilers and have been savouring every review since its release. Now, almost one month after its release I have finally been able to see it! If it was any old film then I would’ve seen it on the day of its release, however this is a Christopher Nolan movie which means that it has to be seen on the biggest screen possible to get the full effect.
So I took a trip up to London to catch Dunkirk on the BFI Imax, the biggest screen in England and I can safely say that it was worth the wait. Dunkirk is quite possibly the greatest cinema experience I have ever had, or at least the best since Interstellar which created similar immersive intensity in IMAX. But even without the gargantuan screen and crystal clear sound, Christopher Nolan has created not just the greatest war film ever but one of the greatest films of any genre. It is truly a one of a kind film, breaking all kinds of war movie conventions and doing things that have never been attempted in any film before it. Extraordinarily, Nolan has outdone himself once again.
Dunkirk is the equivalent of a cinematic pressure-cooker. From the moment the film begins, it’s put on high heat and it barely lets up for its entire 100 minute running time. The opening scene is sensational. We watch as a tragically young soldier picks up a leaflet depicting how British troops are surrounded by Germans. There’s an instant atmosphere of dread and panic which only intensifies when the first bullet explodes out of nowhere. We’re used to guns firing all the time in films. This is the first time the sound of a bullet has sent shivers up my spine. The noise is so loud and so sharp that I found myself jolting in my seat and for the first time in a war film, feeling the same sense of fear the soldiers on screen are feeling.
The weight of the situation really hits hard. The idea that these people could die at any moment feels Earth-shatteringly real. This is largely down to Christopher Nolan’s directing which tries to squeeze as much realness and tension as possible out of everything. Long takes are used as well as very few CGI effects. The images feel so real that you almost forget that you’re watching something that was staged. There’s a moment near the beginning when a German plane flies over the troops and the roar of the engine matched with the fear in the soldier’s faces and the over-powering dreadful score make it one of the most terrifying scenes I have ever seen on film. When the bombs hit, it’s utterly devastating.
Unlike most war films, there isn’t a conventional or linear plot. There is no main character or much dialogue at all, instead the film is more interested in capturing the entire event of the Dunkirk evacuation. The main focus is on a story which presents a week of soldiers trying to survive on Dunkirk but there is also a more talky story which sees Mark Rylance taking his little boat out to Dunkirk to pick up some stranded troops as well as an almost dialogue-free story where Tom Hardy (face-covered again) has a go at shooting down enemy planes. It could have been messy but in the hands of Nolan these stories are expertly weaved and executed to perfection.
Unsurprisingly many audiences haven’t quite taken to the film. Average moviegoers expecting an ordinary film with characters you can root for are going to be disappointed. Dunkirk is pure cinema and is something that cannot be described or put into words, it’s something you simply have to experience and feel. It’s the reason why I love films and why I go to the cinema, to be taken on a journey. This is why I’m a fan of directors like David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick whose works consistently provide an immersive escapism into another world. Dunkirk is exactly this. It’s a film which sweeps you along with it and completely immerses you in the world of the film.
Whatever you look for in a film though, you can’t deny the technical mastery of Dunkirk. I mean no hyperbole when I say that Dunkirk features some of the most spectacular images I have ever seen in a film. Planes sweeping over oceans, thousands upon thousands of soldiers lining up on a dark beach, ships sinking and engulfing people in water. These are some of the most breath-taking and indelible visuals I have ever come across. However, there are also quieter moments which haunt my mind. An older soldier throwing himself into the ocean and a heart-breaking final montage which ends each story on a spine-tingling powerful note are just as spectacular as the monumental set-pieces.
Hans Zimmer also deserves a mention for providing yet again another remarkable score. Music always plays a big part in Nolan films, but in Dunkirk the music almost becomes another character. It’s often dark and brooding but also serves to ratchet up the tension with a constant ticking which adds to the nail-biting intensity. At times of relief though, it’s uplifting and gave me perhaps the biggest chills I’ve ever had whilst watching a movie.
Dunkirk is more than just a film; it’s a work of art. I can’t think of a more intense movie experience than this. By the time the film ended I felt shaken and adjusting to reality outside of the cinema was difficult. This is the first war film to actually drop you in the middle of the war. It’s definitely worth going to see on IMAX for the full experience, but it’s just as unmissable on your teeny weenie TV at home. Hopefully the Academy will now finally recognise Nolan for the incredible talent that he is after Interstellar was cruelly snubbed. Dunkirk is truly extraordinary.