Dunkirk though is quite a different beast for him – instead of the sci-fi thrillers that he’s best known for doing, Nolan has decided to step into the bustling war genre. As the title infers the film focuses upon the evacuation of British soldiers from the French beaches of Dunkirk in 1940 and features three distinct and non-linear storylines that intersect with each other. One deals with Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young British private that desperately tries to survive long enough to evacuate Dunkirk. The second follows citizen Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) who is a part of a fleet of ships that set off to rescue the Allied soldiers. Finally there’s the exploits of RAF pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) who has to prevent the Luftwaffe from creating more Allied casualties.
It is true to a degree that Dunkirk is a little bit empty on its plot and characters – they mainly serve as vessels for the action of the war to occur – as such, it’s understandable why people may not enjoy Dunkirk or feel much sympathy for the cause of the characters. But for me Dunkirk still manages to be an extremely tense and thrilling ride and in spite of their limited backstory it’s a film that can make you feel extremely nervous for the characters. Farrier’s subplot is the weakest due to its somewhat repetitive nature, but it still manages to be rather effective as it crosses over into the other subplots and reaches its climax, whilst Tom Hardy’s performance, though restrained, is still solid. The storyline with the soldiers is great as we experience the feeling of being trapped on the beaches with the soldiers and the atmosphere is incredibly tense as everything seems to go wrong for them. Once again the performances are restrained overall though all are impressive in their roles; even Harry Styles making his film debut delivers a really good performance! The most enjoyable scenes in the film come from Mr. Dawson’s exploits; his conflicts with a sailor (Cillian Murphy) that’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are excellent, with both of them having serious points of whether or not they should turn back to England or keep on going to Dunkirk, and the two of them give fantastic performances.
But as mentioned the film is primarily concerned about the action and ferocity of the war and in that category it delivers in absolute spades. Dunkirk fires on all cylinders for most of its screentime (and at 107 minutes it’s comfortably Nolan’s shortest film since his debut Following) and consistently makes the most of the time that it has. All the action sequences feature a great amount of intensity to it and Nolan’s direction, as well as the cinematography from director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema, comes through to push them to the next level. This is most seen with scenes where characters are in danger of drowning and the camera work shakes furiously to make you feel as though you’re in the water along with them – the fact that the screen actually does go dark during some of these drowning scenes at night help add to the intensity of the situation. As such, although you never see any of the Central Powers until the very end of the film you feel their presence loom and as such you want the Allies to get out of Dunkirk with their lives. Though the absence of blood and gore, thanks to a PG-13 rating, does diminish the war’s impact a little it doesn’t feel too noticeably absent. The lack of dialogue and exposition also helps the movie as the situations the characters get into feel much more believable and lets the movie get on with its action. But my favourite aspect of the film is the music, composed by Hans Zimmer as per the norm for Christopher Nolan films. Many of his leitmotifs rely on simple notes that steadily increase in their tempo as time goes on and much of the score features the ticking of clocks in the background. These two aspects help to inflate the tense atmosphere of Dunkirk and gives off the impression that the soldiers have little time left in their lives before the Germans get them, thus making the film that much more thrilling.
Dunkirk isn’t a perfect film – many of the characters are quite two-dimensional and have not much character to them, which makes it a bit harder to care for some of them, and the scenes in the air, though technically impressive, are somewhat less interesting than the rest of the film and a bit repetitive. But Dunkirk is still a deeply exciting and nerve-wracking film that truly shows of the skills of Christopher Nolan’s directing work. He makes you feel worried for the majority of these characters even if they don’t have much of a story to them, and he makes nearly every second count in the film’s brisk runtime. The action is fast paced and thrilling and added on with the amazing score and the lack of exposition that could bog down the film it’s an absolute epic war film. It may not be my favourite of Nolan’s films and I can see why people may not enjoy it but it’s still a grandiose and exciting war movie and proof of his immense skill as a filmmaker.
Dunkirk – written and directed by Christopher Nolan, produced by Nolan and Emma Thomas, 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. A Syncopy production, a Warner Bros. film
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