On the coast of 1940’s France, the beaches of Dunkirk holds over 380,000 soldiers desperately trying to evacuate back to Britain before the advancing German forces overwhelm allied troops and kill every last man. Dunkirk is directed by Christopher Nolan, stars Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and others, including a surprising debut from Harry Styles.
Dunkirk is not what most casual audiences would expect to see. Instead it exposes the dark, cold, wet, mechanical brutality which is survival. Although a 12 certificate, Nolan is able to deliver powerful and ultimately disturbing images to the audience. Hollywood’s typical vision of war is nowhere to be seen. Dunkirk is coarse, abrasive and sombre.
Shot in 70mm, Nolan attempts to capture the sheer scale of this historic moment and showcase the spectacle of the event. He purposefully steered away from including “strong characters” with typical arch’s and back stories. Gone are the cliché “I’ve got her waiting for me, back home.” speeches, and what we get is a grounded, gritty, mostly silent film.
The film’s heart rests upon the incredible score by Hans Zimmer, as do many of Nolan’s successful films. Zimmer’s unrelenting industrial/orchestral soundtrack makes you squirm in your seat with each coming pass, clearly thriving when it’s loud and proud. Screaming Stutka engines are deafening and make you recoil just like terrified soldiers. Bombs screech and whistle before devastating exposed infantrymen. Dunkirk is an example of expert sound design and effectively turned a relatively restrained film, into an emotional and exhausting marathon to safety.
Nolan represents the British people in a stoic, resilient light, which can best symbolise the British war mentality the nation has become legendary for. Simultaneously he shows soldiers committing unethical deeds and turning on each other, and allies alike. Dunkirk illustrates both the courage and more importantly the fear needed to survive such a traumatic scenario.
Many will compare this film to some of Stanley Kubrick’s works and rightly so. Its art house style and sometimes purgatoric theme is reminiscent of other noteworthy war films including Kubrick’s famous, Full Metal Jacket. The lack of blood and gore isn’t a miss step here, as the impact of the violence is still very much felt. Death in war isn’t like the movies with grandiose explosions and courageous last words. It’s quick and harsh, just like the calculated Nazi airplanes.
Nolan is shaping himself to be one of the best directors of his generation and has proved time and time again he is here to stay. He may often draw influence from other directors but does so in a compelling way, resulting in him arguably leading the charge in terms of modern cinema. The only downside of Nolan’s newest feature is the lack of individual attachment to any one character or story. The film comes over as more of a video diary of the battle rather than a classic conflict movie. Which is perfect for what Nolan wished to achieve, but does hold this film back from making it to ‘classic’ status.
Dunkirk will have you sweat, squirm, flinch and more as the bullets fly and desperation sets in. War is brutal and it ultimately comes down to survival. No punches are pulled, or embellished for that matter, instead Dunkirk is a window into a catastrophic and incredible part of world history, which has been preserved and reinvigorated by Nolan’s impeccable talent and taste.