Dunkirk is the latest film from acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, set during World War II Dunkirk tells the true story of the evacuation of over 400,000 soldiers from this one beach that was surrounded on all sides by enemy forces. Joining Nolan as he weaves this tale is a wonderful cast including Barry Keoghan, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, and Harry Styles.
Set at three distinct points in time Dunkirk follows several characters during three pivotal moments during this evacuation. The audience follows three civilians who wish to save soldiers with their civilian boat, their storyline takes place across a day. There are also three aircraft pilots, their timeline is one hour and finally, there is the third timeline which follows several soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk trying desperately to get home, this timeline is one week. Nolan has always had a fascination with time manipulation in his previous films and with Dunkirk, he utilises his skill with it to great effect. Watching the story unfold in three separate events is compelling and whenever they intersect there is an odd sense of satisfaction. It’s not just Nolan’s direction that is top notch there is also the cinematography and the unbelievable imagery associated with it. When Cillian Murphy’s character is first introduced it is this simple but highly effective moment that days later has still stuck with me because of its emotional impact. There is also a quiet horror to the scenes of the beach being bombed, this is down to the fact that being bombed has been these men’s lives for so long some have forgotten about anything else other than surviving the next wave of destruction. It’s a different kind of warfare that most audiences may not be used to and Nolan has executed it masterfully. Another fascinating editing decision to be mindful of is that there is a running clock that comes up every now and then during Dunkirk. This is a reminder to the audience that there is always a threat coming and it never lets the tension completely dissipate. It’s a wonderful decision by Nolan but it is not for the faint of heart.
Accompanying all this haunting imagery is a fantastic score by the legendary Hans Zimmer who along with the direction of Nolan delivers a tense and emotional journey for all the characters. On the topic of characters, this is where the film may fall short for some audiences. Though the talent is incredible and the emotive acting is phenomenal there are no true characters. There are several elements that attribute, the minimal script doesn’t allow for much characterisation. Each character is more a symbol of the people that were living through these trying times and nothing is wrong with this but if you’re looking for a character-centric film then you may be disappointed. This is more an event film, about how powerful this moment in history was rather than a story about one particular character and their journey.
The most impressive part of Dunkirk may be the most unusual aspect I’ve discussed in a review. The runtime of 107 minutes to many was considered too short for a film about WWII but after seeing Dunkirk all I thought coming out of it was how it perfectly encapsulates such an important point in history within such a neat and impactful package and why other films of this genre can’t do it so effectively.
Dunkirk is a blisteringly emotional film filled with memorable imagery and a pulse-pounding score. It is a cinema going event so if at all possible head along with friends or family. You’ll be talking about it long after the credits roll and on a final note if you’re in Dublin and you’re looking to see it in the coveted 70mm head along to the IFI it is an unforgettable experience.