Brandon Richardson | 20/07/2017
War. Pure and simple. Dunkirk gives us true insight into the hopelessness, desperation and fear of 400000 soldiers whose fight for survival is out of their hands.
Christopher Nolan tells the epic tale of the evacuation of allied soldiers from Dunkirk beach in France. An allied force of British, French, Belgian and Canadian soldiers were trapped on the coastline following heavy defeats during the Battle of France in 1940. Nolan immerses us in this miraculous operation by following three semi-concurrent storylines: a young private (Fionn Whitehead) and his desperate struggle to get home; a civilian (Mark Rylance) whose ship is requisitioned by the navy for civilian rescue efforts; and a fighter pilot (Tom Hardy) over an hour of his desperate defence of the beach and rescue vessels.
This is without doubt Nolan’s greatest work of art. This is not a statement to be taken lightly considering the tenure he has developed over the last fifteen years as the premiere summer blockbuster director. And yet, his direction in this film far exceeds any film in recent memory, elevating the craft to a true art form. The complexity and vision involved in managing a cast of over 6000 extras, along with a principal cast that consist of many inexperienced actors (like boy-band-wonder-turned-actor Harry Styles), shooting much of the film on location at the actual Dunkirk beach, reconditioning actual warships and planes or coordinating actual aerial dogfights and the sinking of enormous ships is enough to boggle the mind. Yet, Nolan handles all these enormous challenges with skill and subtlety to produce what is perhaps the most immersive war film ever made.
Dunkirk is a film that centres its viewer engagement around tension, which is essentially constant throughout the film. From the very first second, we are plunged into a tangible sense of despair and uncertainty following a group of young soldiers being gunned down in the streets as they frantically scramble towards to the beach for evacuation. Without knowing who is the “hero” of the story, Nolan holds his audience in suspense as we never know who is “meant” to survive and who is to die as we might under a typical movie formula. This effect is only multiplied by the relentless, driving score produced by Hans Zimmer that uses clever musical devices set to the constant ticking of a clock to push the intensity to a maximum. Even as the film progresses, the minimal dialogue means that very little character backstory is ever divulged, nor are the main characters any more developed than they need to be. Despite this, the film is presented with such realism that the audience still genuinely feels for every trial, tribulation and death presented on screen because the situation is made so accessible to us. The people we watch could be us, could be our friends, could be our countrymen.
It is in this genuine emotion-provoking that the true entertainment of this film lies, not in the manufactured heroics or sentimentality that are commonplace amongst films of this genre. In the modern time of Netflix where convenience is king, we often forget the true magic of attending the cinema. Indeed, seldom is there a film that one might consider truly “worth” seeing on the big screen, but Dunkirk is a must. Although digital projection has become the norm, this is a film where the art of film projection comes into its own, making the footage seem like it were actually captured during those dark days of the War. If you have the opportunity, ensure you find a cinema that is showing the film as intended in 70mm, such as Palace Centro in Brisbane. It is the only way to fully appreciate this awe-inspiring visual epic.
Christopher Nolan has elevated the role of director to new heights. We feel more than comfortable tipping him to take Best Director at Oscars night come next year, and calling Dunkirk one of the greatest war films of all time.