I have to admit to some trepidation going into this movie. After all with a subject like World War II, and one so grounded in realism is unlikely to surprise, after all the war has been over for 70+ years so it’s safe to say we know who came out victorious. However, there is one thing Christopher Nolan does well it’s surprise his viewers, with his casting and filmmaking, with that said let’s dive into it.
It’s 1940 and the British Army is pinned down by advancing German forces in the French town of Dunkirk, under fire from air and from land, they begin the perilous evacuation mission.
Told from the perspective of three main sides, a soldier stranded on Dunkirk beach, a civilian sailing his private ship to aid the evacuation and an RAF pilot, flying over the channel and keeping the skies clear of German bombers. It tells the remarkable story of the civilian help to evacuate Dunkirk.
This film is really something special. It grabs you by the scruff of the neck in the very first minute and doesn’t let go until the credits roll, using an effective mix of orchestral score (provided by Nolan regular Hans Zimmer) and the soundtrack of war, that is bullets and bombs it makes you feel like you are stood on the beach. It drips with an intense atmosphere. Intense is probably the best word, but it’s the best possible tension, a feeling of unknowing, unknowing that these characters that we’ve grown to like will make it home unscathed, unknowing of the threat of any number of German planes ready to emerge from the clouds.
Nolan really is a filmmaker at the top of his game, never more is this apparent than in the beauty of some shots in this movie, whether they be encompassing shots of the beach itself, or a view from the cockpit of a spitfire, it could not look crisper and more refined if it were a drawing in an art gallery, every frame jumps from the screen to tell it’s own story, plenty of column-inches have been dedicated in the past to the merits of Christopher Nolan, but he really is that good, how he makes a movie feel alive and jump off the screen without need for gimmicks like 3D or the latest CGI, filmmaking this good can only be achieved with passion and painstaking skill.
Now onto the performance side; what is great about the casting is Nolan’s casting of young, unknown actors (paralleling the young age of many soldiers too young to have taken part in this war but still did) and compliments it by adding great experience on top, Tom Hardy receives top billing in this movie, yet despite this he has less than ten lines, and the truth is he didn’t need any more lines, the nuances in his performance come in the tension of the moment, and the way he acts with his eyes is just incredible, he has more range in just his eyes than many actors do in their entire bodies. Overall the movie is light on dialogue, which doesn’t really hamper the movie in any way. It builds effective tension by actions, by scene after scene of seemingly never ending trials and tribulations for his characters to conquer, it’s simply astounding.
Let’s address the elephant in the room while I’m on the topic of acting. Harry Styles. Was I sceptical when I heard he’d be in this movie? Yes, but also optimistic, after all Heath Ledger was seen as a strange choice when he was cast as The Joker ten plus years ago. Is his performance as good as Ledger’s? No, but it’s no less surprising. He delivers lines and carries scenes like someone who’s been acting for years also, and I will stop using the word I promise, his character drips with tension, as one would when they’ve been stood on a beach being bombarded by German bombs. I don’t know what lies ahead for Mr Styles in terms of acting, but I hope he sticks at it, he really looks like he has something to add.
In conclusion then, if any movie were to convince you that movies are art, this is the one, not only does it look beautiful, it sounds beautiful, it feels beautiful, hell IT IS beautiful, in every sense that a movie can be. I know it’s early to be throwing around Oscar rumours but this is one movie that deserves a nomination for at least direction and cinematography, if not more. So to wrap-up, put aside a few hours and treat yourself, film-making doesn’t get any better than this.