Dunkirk movie review: Christopher Nolan's war movie to end all war movies
Christopher Nolan's new war epic is precisely that – epic. Shot on a scale that truly echoes an atmosphere of war, with a score that never forgets the story of death and destruction it accompanies, Dunkirk is as much an experience as it is a movie.
Dunkirk is based on the real-life evacuation of France's Dunkirk beaches in WW II. With Dunkirk all but lost, and the remaining allied forces beset on all sides by German forces, and under attack from Luftwaffe bombers, a desperate evacuation of the estimated 400,000 allied forces begins.
The story of this evacuation in the movie is told from three perspectives - land, air, and sea.
On land, our protagonist is Tommy, a young British soldier. With his entire regiment slaughtered in the opening frames of the movie, Tommy makes his way to the beaches of Dunkirk. Hoping for safety, Tommy soon realises that this is merely the start of his struggles as evacuation seems near impossible. The added cruelty, as another soldier (Billy Howle) points out, is that Britain is actually visible from the beaches of Dunkirk.
In the air, we follow the proceedings through the eyes of Farrier (Tom Hardy), a spitfire pilot whose squadron has been tasked with protecting the evacuation from German bombers.
On the sea front, we sail with Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), two of many civilians tapped by the British Navy to aid in evacuation efforts.
Nolan weaves these three together in a non-linear narrative that focuses on each individual story, while never losing sight of the bigger picture. The result is simply spectacular.
The greatest war movie ever?
Dunkirk is, quite possibly, the best war movie ever told. The sheer scale of the war is so effectively portrayed that it almost feels like the real thing.
The score as well, the latest in the Hans Zimmer-Nolan partnership, is masterful. Right from the start, the movie utilises every audio trick in the book to reinforce the atmosphere, with a ticking metronome constantly bringing about the feeling of an impending explosion, air raid sirens accompanying the bombing raids, and screeching violins underpinning some of the more chaotic sequences.
The end result is an almost suffocating feeling of war that pins the viewer down, leaving one silent in the face of the enormous spectacle playing out on the screen.
The direction and cinematography of Dunkirk is phenomenal, however, what really makes the movie stand out is Nolan's treatment of war.
While war movies usually revolve around grandiose speeches, larger than life heroes and compelling backstories, war is, more often than not, about regular people trying to survive extraordinary circumstances in the fight for a higher cause. Dunkirk epitomises this.
Nolan carefully avoids the usual cliches, letting the horrors of war elicit empathy and emotion instead.
As such, none of the characters gets a back story. There are no anxious parents, nursing wives, crying children or friends waiting back home. The characters, even the most important, only receive first names or last names, never both. Nolan's depiction of war, much like an actual war, has no time for such trivialities.
This, though, puts added pressure on Nolan to elicit empathy from the audience, but he delivers excellently. Aided by a more-than-able cast, with Mark Rylance in particular shining above the rest, Dunkirk will leave you spellbound, and release you back into the world with a renewed perspective on the horrors of war and the sacrifices involved.
Should you see it?
Absolutely. Dunkirk is a cinematic masterclass that has to be seen. The cinema experience is also integral to the film's appeal, so make sure you catch it before it leaves theatres!