|Fionn Whitehead finds himself in a hellish inferno on this poster for Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk|
Summer 1940, France: WWII is raging in its early stages, and a huge number of Allied soldiers, mainly English, are pushed towards the long beach stretch of Dunkirk. Evacuation Operation Dynamo is launched.
Dunkirk is the 10th feature from British master writer-director Christopher Nolan (Inception (2010)), and it is a beast of a movie. It grabs you with its very first scene, - which shows us one of the film's leads, young Fionn Whitehead (Him (2016), TV miniseries) fleeing a rain of bullets to the barren beach, - and it doesn't let you off its hook again until it ends. Even thereafter, it is sure to stay in the minds and hearts of everyone who sees it.
It is violently intense, comparable to Steven Spielberg's masterpiece Saving Private Ryan (1998) in this respect, yet in focusing on this gigantic retreat, which must be among the largest in human history, (400,000 British troops are said to have been rescued in the 9-day long military and civil effort), it is more about survival than combat.
The film has been called impressionist, and it is an auspicious description of it. We follow the major undertaking in three scenarios: One from the viewpoint of a few British fighter planes which are heading over towards Dunkirk, facing enemies along the way. One from the viewpoint of a young cadet, who as thousands of others is a part of the evacuation effort and finds himself in mortal danger several times. The last scenario is from the viewpoint of one of the civilian boats that sailed across with brave seamen at the helm, risking their lives to bring home as many of their beaten countrymen as possible. Dunkirk lets us go along with these men and see and feel what they did during this calamitous situation, as it unfolds. Although its scope and ambition seems also comparable to older WWII films such as The Longest Day (1962), Dunkirk does not burden its portrayal with the political discussions behind the evacuation, neither with the war's experience from the German or other nation's soldiers' point of view. Because of this, and because it portrays a British effort of defeat but also of humanistic splendor, some critique the film as being nationalistic and restricted. I don't believe so, and I believe the criticism mostly grows out of an unhappiness with the Great Britain that is today.
Contrarily, Dunkirk shows an honest and tremendously powerful and intimate portrayal of a specific historic event, while also implicitly schooling its audiences in the inhumane nature and the horror of war, when lives become nothing but enemy numbers, and the world nothing but a battlefield.
Dunkirk is shot on glorious 65mm and 65mm IMAX film stock, making for a huge picture that has an encompassing feel to it; the flying sequences in particular are dizzying and among the finest such ever created. Never do we sense an artificially rendered part of an image here. The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her (2013)) is astounding, and the film's editing by Lee Smith (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)) is masterful. Dunkirk is almost too exciting, SPOILER and especially its scenes of getting trapped underwater are sure to go straight into the nightmares of thousands if not millions of people. Another element that pushes the film to its constant high is its first-rate, very loud sound design coupled with a ticking, tension-building score by Hans Zimmer (The Boss Baby (2017)).
Dunkirk, in part due to its structure, is not primarily an actors' film, but it still has many fine performances: Newcomers Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard (Bitter Harvest (2017)), pop-star Harry Styles, Tom Glynn (The Last Post (2017), TV-series) and Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)) do well and show promises for the future. They are supported by veterans who deliver portrayals full of integrity and dignity: Mark Rylance (Anonymous (2011)), Tom Hardy (This Means War (2012)), Cillian Murphy (Sunshine (2007)) and Kenneth Branagh (Five Children and It (2004)), relishing a paternal performance as Commander Bolton.
Dunkirk is what cinemas are made for. It is suspenseful and emotionally arresting to a fault. Furthermore it stays with you. It is a war movie for the ages and possibly the year's best film.
Christopher Nolan: Interstellar (2014) - Nolan heads to space in opulent, exciting epic
2014 in films - according to Film Excess
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) or, Batman and the Storm, Darkness, Anarchy, Evil, Depression
2010 in films and TV-series - according to Film Excess [UPDATED I]
2010 in films and TV-series - according to Film Excess
Inception (2010) - Nolan's best is a grand piece of action sci-fi, perfectly awesome nonsense
The Dark Knight (2008) - Nolan's best Batman
Batman Begins (2005) or, Modern, Dark, Smooth Batman
Watch a trailer for the film here
Cost: 150 mil. $
Box office: 105.9 mil. $ and counting
= Too early to say
[Dunkirk premiered 13 July (London) and runs 106 minutes. Nolan reportedly got the idea for the film 25 years ago but waited until he was a veteran of huge blockbusters to launch his vision, based on a 76-page script. Shooting took place from May 2016 in France, including Dunkirk, as well as in Holland, England and California. 12 of the boats used for filming had actually been used in the evacuation. 6,000 extras worked on the film. The film opened #1 to a 50.5 mil. $ first weekend in North America. Dunkirk is certified fresh at 95 % with an 8.9/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]
What do you think of Dunkirk?