Directed by Christopher Nolan
By Christopher Spencer
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk stars Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, James D’Arcy, Harry Styles, with Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, and introducing Fionn Whitehead. In three stories of the land, the sea and the air, Dunkirk tells the story of the 1941 evacuation of nearly 400,000 British soldiers from the titular beaches, while German fighters rain death from above and beyond.
Christopher Nolan is a director who has a sharp eye for detail, and taking on this true story which is one well-known by the British public, Nolan has set out to make his most factual and realistic film yet. He has succeeded with Dunkirk. The planes, boats, costumes, setting, production design and characterisations are all correct and appropriate, and above all that, the way that Nolan has written this film to be of three storylines represents the multiple sides of a complex and harrowing event.
He challenges himself further with his 10th film, writing it with little dialogue and his shortest running time at 106 minutes. The film solely relies on the experience that Nolan crafts, a deafening and tormenting reflection, that in the end is beautiful. What you are watching is a masterclass in directing and how to craft great cinema as it used to be back in the day.
The acting from the whole cast is strong, but I can see the criticism that their characters aren’t developed enough. While backstory could have helped, I didn’t have a problem with the ensemble being simple pieces in a greater story at hand. If the actors in question were not as talented as they are, then the silent exchanges and minimal dialogue would have felt robotic.
Dunkirk may however appeal more to British and French audiences as it is their history, as opposed to American viewers. Moments in the film might feel more important if one knows the legacy of Winston Churchill or the true courage of British civilians in a time of utter despair. The film also plays a twisting game of time, a staple of Nolan’s filmography, but I found myself confused as to which character was where at which point in time. The different chronological settings for the three stories is smoothed over in the climax, but it’s that second act that’s causes headaches.
Hans Zimmer as composer and Hoyte Van Hoytema as cinematographer return to collaborate with Nolan, and are as impeccable as ever. Zimmer enhances the suspense and tension with his almost constant score, hammered home further by deafening silence at precise moments. Hoytema’s framing, lighting, slow and quick movements, and camera placements are frighteningly electric, using to perfection IMAX cameras once again.
Dunkirk is a film that breathes powerful life into a story barely told on film. There was a 1958 movie and glimpses of the evacuation in Atonement, but Nolan proves that to tell a historical story, you need to make the film feel like a visual history lesson. And certainly not a boring one, as it is chaotic and horrifying, filled with dread and quiet poetry. Dunkirk feels nonetheless like a film made of love, of deep respect for the service of brave men and women in the face of a military disaster. Dunkirk was one of the most immersive cinematic experiences I’ve ever had, and is one of Nolan’s finest films.