Run time :1h46m
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney and Sir Michael Caine (voice)
Screening types: 2D4DXViPSubtitledSuperscreen
Synopsis: Dunkirk opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces. Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in.
From filmmaker Christopher Nolan [Interstellar (2014), Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-12) The Prestige (2006), Memento (2000)] comes the electrifying, immersive, action epic Dunkirk, which brings a pivotal moment in the Second World War magnificently to the screen.
From 26 May to 4 June 1940, surrounded by the German army (simply ‘the enemy’ in the film), Allied forces were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. The evacuation, known as Operation Dynamo, called for all available help from the UK to rescue the soldiers. Among those who responded were civilians with small vessels such as fishing boats, pleasure craft and car ferries. Over 300,000 soldiers were rescued and the evacuation was hailed as a “miracle” by the new Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Such historical context is kept to a minimum in the film as Nolan wants us to experience the events rather than view them from any outside position.
Nolan has directed Dunkirk from his own screenplay, which is brought vividly to the screen by Hoyte van Hoytema’s breath-taking cinematography, utilizing a mixture of IMAX® and 65mm film.
The film is told from three perspectives (‘land’, ‘sea’, ‘air’) in three intercut timeframes – the beached infantry, queueing for deliverance at The Mole (one week); the rescuing navy/civilian vessels in the English Channel (one day) and the RAF airmen in the skies above (one hour).
Nolan makes other bold cinematic decisions – using dialogue only sparingly; eschewing traditional narrative devices that would help orientate his audience; and elevating music and sound design to character status, with Hans Zimmer’s nerve-shredding compositions delivering almost unbearable tension throughout the whole film.
Acting-wise, it features a prestigious ensemble cast including Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn, Hamlet, Henry V) as Commander Bolton, pier-master of The Mole; Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, Wolf Hall) as the plucky Mr Dawson who – with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and 17- year-old George (Barry Keoghan) – sets off in the Moonstone motor yacht, as one of the many ‘little ships of Dunkirk’ that assisted in the rescue; Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders, Anthropoid, In the Heart of the Sea) as the anonymous, aggressive, shell-shocked soldier they take on board; Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, Inception) as Farrier, one of the three Spitfire pilots engaging the enemy in the skies above the Channel, trying to protect the defenceless men below – with up-and-coming Scots actor Jack Lowden (Tommy’s Honour, Denial, War and Peace) as one of his fellow RAF pilots, Collins.
For his infantrymen, Nolan wanted talents that were young and relatively unfamiliar faces. Newcomer Fionn Whitehead is superb as Tommy, a young British private whose struggle to survive and get home is one of the few central threads through the film. The strong, multi-generational ensemble also includes Harry Styles (a very creditable debut from the singer), Aneurin Barnard, Bill Milner, James D’Arcy and Kevin Guthrie.
Nolan’s desire for authenticity was paramount, leaving aside in large part his reputation as a master of spectacular hi-tech digital film-making for creating his spectacle on the real beach of Dunkirk with real people and authentic World War Two hardware – with no CGI! Additional filming took place in Holland, the UK and Los Angeles.
Rather than offering a history lesson, Nolan has delivered a stunning universal film about survival – an existential masterpiece in all senses of the word – as well as one of the most visceral nerve-shredding experiences in recent cinema. For advanced shredding, make sure you view Dunkirk on as big a screen as possible!
Images courtesy of Warner Bros