May 26th, 1940. The German army have pushed the allied forces all the way to the sea. 400,000 British, Belgian and French troops are left trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, with the English Channel standing between their salvation and impending doom.
This is the subject matter of Christopher Nolan’s latest film. The acclaimed director decided to do away with fantastical sci-fi plots and superheroes and adapt a piece of history, and a significant one at that. Whenever Christopher Nolan makes a film there are always tidal waves in the film world, and every cinephile out there was curious to see what the Nolan could do with a true story. On this trip into the past he brings with him cast regulars Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, along with heavyweights Sir Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance. Nolan is also known to bring in new blood to his films, and he does so by casting newcomers Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan and Harry Styles. Yes, the same Harry Styles from One Direction. The big question was what would Nolan do with a true story? Fans are used to big twists and sci-fi elements in Nolan’s films, and none could really predict what he would do now given the fact that a Christopher Nolan film set is basically Area 51.
It’s been over two years of secrecy and subtle hints, but the time has finally come. I can wholeheartedly say that this is the movie of the summer, and quite possibly of the entire year because I just can’t see anything else beating it. Right from the first second of Dunkirk, you are locked into the experience, and Nolan’s incredible direction in this picture create an almost quicksand effect, forever sinking and never letting you up for breath.
To begin with, the cinematography in this film is truly something to behold, partly due to the fact that it was filmed using 70mm film reel and IMAX cameras. As a film nerd, I have an immense love for great camerawork, and it’s very rare that a productions cinematography makes me tear up. Dunkirk’s cinematography made me tear up. Twice. The vast majority of shots in this movie are fantastic, but some are just truly magnificent. The sequences involving Tom Hardy’s character, Farrier, are some of the best airplane shots ever seen in film. IMAX cameras were welded to the wings of the planes during production in order to get the desired angles and the result is astonishing.
One truly great thing about this movie is it’s use of practical effects over CGI, and Dunkirk left me questioning “What CGI?”. Almost everything you see in this film is practical and real. Scenes were filmed in the town of Dunkirk, actual boats, trucks and planes were used, thousands of extras were hired to play the part of soldiers on the beaches. The attention to detail that Nolan takes in all of his projects is more present than ever, and even the most hardcore of history buffs will find it hard to find falsities in the details.
To speak for the cast, the A-listers give their typically great performances, and the newcomers show that they can hold their own against such names. Onto Harry Styles. I was very sceptical about his inclusion in this production. Sure he can sing. One Direction are the opposite of my cup of tea. But Nolan stressed that he saw potential in the young singer turned actor, and that potential apparently earned him his spot. I have to say, I have ever been more wrong in my life. I was so wrong, that I didn’t even think to myself “That’s Harry Styles” when watching. I didn’t even realise it was him until after a few minutes. For this to be his first feature film, he was handed a hefty amount of dialogue in comparison to some other cast members, and I have to say that he was great.
Now the more I ramble on the more I risk over-hyping this, so I’ll begin to conclude. To describe Dunkirk in single words, it would be thrilling, tense, claustrophobic, magnificent and completely unique. There is no single war movie that this can be compared to. The structure in which Nolan chooses to show us these events is truly surprising and leaves a massive impact. Now critics from around the world have criticised Dunkirk for not having characters to care about. There are no scenes in this film where soldiers sit around and discuss their lives back home and get to know each other and in turn we the audience get to know them. Christopher Nolan hasn’t made a war film about individuals though; but about every single person included and affected.
The whole thing is almost an exercise in empathy right from the very start. I believe, that Nolan’s message in this film that war is about every soldier that did their duty, and the people affected by the tragedy and what those people can also do when faced with such dark times. To sign off, Dunkirk is a demonstration on what cinema is all about, and how cinema should be done. Film reel, practical effects, human extras, it has it all. With this film, Christopher Nolan has crafted his masterpiece, and what a thrilling one at that.
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