Dunkirk (2017) ★★★★★

Dunkirk (2017) ★★★★★
Humpo Show Rating | 9.3
IMDb Rating | 8.7
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Damien Bonnard, Lee Armstrong, James Bloor, Barry Keoghan
Director: Christopher Nolan
Plot Summary: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II. (IMDb)

The musical scores, from none other than soundtrack master Hans Zimmer, fit the narrative and history like a glove. The heart-piercing screeches of the German Luftwaffe planes that descend on the British and French soldiers stranded on the beach are complimented with Zimmer’s notes that could easily pass for rolling bouts of thunder. The Luftwaffe’s appearances and Zimmer’s music coalesce to make for thrilling and breathless viewing, as the viewing audience take a sharp intake of breath, as these intense sequences play out in front of us. The focus on the wailing of planes, gunfire and bombings contrasts with the lack of dialogue, which combines to fully immerse the audience in to the evacuation of Dunkirk. Nolan has created an unparalleled depiction of the scale of the Dunkirk evacuation. The nearest comparable offering on this subject is one scene in Joe Wright’s Atonement. The focus is very much on Robbie’s (James MacAvoy) vision of Dunkirk, in particularly the wounded and the stranded soldiers. The scale of the evacuation operation is not the focus, the characters’ mindset is. Another film that Dunkirk will inevitably be compared to is Spielberg’s classic, Saving Private Ryan. That had the most realistic and awesome opening in war drama film-making history, and it’s authenticity, narrative and drama has ensured it’s place in film history, and rightly so. Dunkirk is now a close second for me in the war epic genre- it’s spectacle and scale is the best ever, but one thing holds it back from film immortality…

Despite the masterful epic that Nolan that he created, the one thing that it lacked was the personal touch. Spectacle took centre stage, and the characters’ narrative took a backseat as we were given very little information about Whitehead, Hardy and Rylance’s characters, something that Saving Private Ryan does especially well with Hanks et al, regardless of the magnitude of the war’s spectacle. At one hour fifty, Dunkirk is one of Nolan’s shortest films, and I just wonder if he were to include some more character narrative that takes it past the two hour mark, Dunkirk could have been faultless. Whitehead is seen as a frame of reference in terms of main characters, so perhaps he could have received more coverage in order to eke out the personal touch that the film lacked.

Nevertheless, Nolan’s direction is fantastic. He has organised his epic through non-linear storytelling and with viewpoints from The Mole (land), The Sea and The Air, he has managed to create a unique way of displaying the conflict in its entirety. Is this the modern pinnacle of on-screen spectacle? I think it is! 6,000 extras, authentic Second World War vehicles, shooting at Dunkirk in Northern France, just ten kilometres from the Belgian border contributes to the immense sense of scale. Nolan bucks against the over-the-top CGI trend that has plagued the recent major blockbusters, and thank goodness he does as the realism he achieves in shunning CGI effects contributes to its wonderful authenticity. The cinematography, that has a great chance of achieving awards success, is exceptional. We are treated to sweeping scenes of Dunkirk beach and we gaze in awe at the thousands beyond thousands of soldiers waiting for a miracle. And then our insides twist and turn as the claustrophobic scenes aboard sinking vessels are portrayed so realistically that we could be aboard the doomed ships along with the soldiers fighting for their lives.

The first of two moments that have stayed with me long after watching the film were the sight of the thousands upon thousands of ships that sailed from England to rescue the soldiers stranded on the beach. It was spine-tingling and it definitely brought a tear of pride in regard to the humanity and bravery they displayed. Churchill aimed to get 30,000 troops back from Dunkirk- and due to the courageous Brits at home, he got 300,000. The soldiers that made up the 300,000 consisted of not only British troops, but French, Dutch and Belgian troops too. The second spine-tingling moment was the roar from the soldiers in response to Spitfire pilot Farrier (Hardy) downing a Luftwaffe that was bearing down on the beach. That brought the hairs on the back of my neck up. It was a sensational piece of drama.

Dunkirk is Nolan’s best shot at Oscar glory yet. The film is a thrilling education in one of the most famous conflicts of the Second World War, covering the fight for survival on the land, on the seas and in the air. The authenticity shines through in every detail, from a pilot’s shell-shock, to the relentless action, deathly silences and the sense of impending doom that plagues the soldiers. A thrilling, intense and epic war drama. 


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3 thoughts on “Dunkirk (2017) ★★★★★

  1. Really fantastic review. I saw this last weekend and it’s been on my mind ever since. Powerful stuff.

    Interestingly (given that I am usually all about character-driven stories), the lack of character narratives didn’t actually bother me. I thought that one of this film’s strengths was that it showed the way that people help one another survive in war without knowing each other’s names and stories – you’re just thrown right into the moment, without any thought but survival. It didn’t feel impartial or cold or any adjectives that I’d normally use with a story that’s more about action than character development – somehow I distinctly felt for each of the characters, even though were only shown glimpses of them, and we didn’t know some of their names. But I’ve seen a lot of mixed reactions to this, so it’s interesting to see how everyone’s taking something different away from it.

    • Thanks! 🙂

      The lack of character-driven stories did not affect my viewing much – hence the 5 star review – it was just a ‘what if’ scenario in my head as it was a relatively short film for Nolan.

      It really is an epic film, and I plan on seeing it again next week. Thanks for your thoughts Rachel!

      • Very good point! I was really surprised at the length – I hadn’t looked up the run time and had been expecting a 2 and a half hour film, I couldn’t believe the time when I walked out of the theatre. Looking at it from that perspective, I certainly don’t think fleshing out some of the characters would have hurt the film at all.

        I hope you enjoy it as much the second time!

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