Dunkirk  is evidently about the Dunkirk evacuations that occurred during the Second World War from 26th May to 4th June 1940. From director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception, Interstellar), anticipation was ecstatic for his return alongside acting and technical collaborators. I was lucky enough to watch this in IMAX 70mm at the BFI Southbank, London so this review is respective of that – there are claims that the film is conveyed differently depending on the format. I’ve seen some examples of the film being awkwardly cropped or larger than usual letterboxes on smaller screens so I agreed to view it via the definitive way – which is the way the filmmaker intended it to be watched.
Brits Overboard: At the very center, Dunkirk is a home-brewed British film with a British cast and crew revolving around a British catastrophe. Nolan independently helms the writing credits this time around which works in his favor due to the minimal dialogue in play. This meant that the acting was incredibly expressive and heavily relied on the empathic connection to the audience – which surprisingly worked with no character context or backstory. The main characters are all played by new talent (Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan) and, with Nolan’s input, will surely see brighter futures. The supporting cast, however (Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy), are used for marketing purposes to ensure a great performance. Strangely, I cannot remember any of these character names and simply refer to them as their reprising actors. I believe it is to reinforce the theme of survival and really show how many people there were that needed rescuing. But even with no character names, Dunkirk is equally an intimate character-driven survival story as it is a war epic.
Dunkerque: Filmed mainly on-location, Dunkirk captures the feel and harshness of the environment. Since it was literally filmed on ‘Dunkerque’, this brittle atmosphere is transmitted through the miserable color grading (and oddly the congregation of seafoam) to create this tragic sensation. Many of the establishing shots just focus on the expanse of soldiers. Combining this with Hans Zimmer’s score (more later) conveys as very emotional. Once the first bombs drop it immediately becomes extremely harrowing and I felt myself welling up. Nolan manages to capture brutality and suffering without showing excessive gore and maintaining a 12A rating.
Tick tock, tick tock: For anyone who is familiar with Spike Jonze’s Her, then they would’ve most definitely remembered the beautiful cinematography displayed by Hoyte Van Hoytema. Hoytema and Zimmer working on a film? With Nolan directing? Some films are instantaneously brilliant on paper. With Hoytema’s cinematography at play (that helplessly draws parallels to Atonement), he and Hans Zimmer are the ultimate dream team in creating a sense of atmosphere. Zimmer’s soundtrack is very aggressive and bombastic with its delivery - deafening at points with a larger emphasis on time. There’s this constant sense of urgency with Zimmer’s ticking clock keeping the audience tensed. The bitterness of the scenery and urgency of the score attempt to best recreate the emotions of being trapped on Dunkirk. And I don’t think they could’ve selected a better crew.
Masterpiece: I also believe that the costume and prop department deserve some recognition as their attention to detail is extraordinary. The vast number of the main and supporting cast were all completely kitted out in proper military uniform and all looked the part. Furthermore, the planes and boats looked as if they were plucked from time and placed directly onto the film set – there was a sincere creative process followed to transport the audience back in time. Dunkirk has succeeded at being a critical and financial victory. It is rare that an original IP soared to such triumph especially since most box office high-hitters are either sequels, remakes, reboots, or part of some convoluted and unnecessary cinematic universe. Dunkirk is a must-see and easily one of the best of 2017. We can now solidly define Christopher Nolan as one of the greatest directors of all time.