Telling the story from a broader view of land, sea and air, Dunkirk shows the lives and rescue of the allied men from Belgium, the British Empire and France stuck on the beach during World War II.
Christopher Nolan has told countless stories from the point of view of his characters, creating their backstory, giving them a history and supporting figures in their lives in order to make their anguish and struggle seem more personal so that you can connect with those you wouldn’t normally. It’s in Dunkirk which he has subverted his own story telling technique. Here you have several events taking place with a range of soldiers going through a number of situations. Without knowing very much about them at all, some whose names are never said, you find yourself caring greatly for them and their safety. Knowing full well that you would never want to be in such a situation, Nolan immerses you as much as he can within the fighter planes, in the water, in the boats, on the beach, running from gunfire. It’s his unique way of making a war film (despite the director stating that this isn’t a war film).
It starts with a few soldiers walking along quiet deserted streets, picking up leaflets strewn across the ground which say “We Surround You. Surrender + Survive”. It’s a stark reminder to the men and the audience of the dire situation that they are in. Shortly after, the gun fire begins and they are running for their lives. From here on in, it’s a heart thumping race to survive in any way possible.
It’s narrative is spread not only across land, sea and air but also through three different timelines, intertwining with each other, getting a wide spread sense of the fear and danger each and every soldier is in. There’s one week for Tommy (Fionn Whithead) initially running from gunfire, it’s a day for civilian Mark Rylance who takes his boat, son and friend out to sea to help those trapped on the beach and it’s an hour for Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot, yet again having his face covered up but working wonders with his eyebrows. The intricate non-linear plots are stitched together seamlessly and minus the brief indications on screen, it’s not a detail which you notice too much.
Each performance feels more like a supporting character as there is no one person’s story which is told through out. Rylance and his boat, Hardy and his plane, plus Kenneth Branagh all appear on screen plenty of times, whilst giving gut wrenchingly intense performances while Whithead and Harry Styles who primarily remain on the beach together create a perilous atmosphere as they run and hide to survive.
These characters do not have a back story that we know about, the only part of their lives that we are aware of is what we see in front of us. Yet with it’s incredibly clever use of sound (the bullets piercing boats and planes, boots on the ground, heavy breathing) and sparing dialogue, you find yourself deeply concerned for all of those involved. The initial gun shots are deafening and echo off the houses and around the streets, showing how alone they are. The fear created primarily by rounds firing is hammered home when Rylance picks up Cillian Murphy, who’s terrified to the point of anger. Across his face and in all of his actions, you can feel it. Rylance feels it’s necessary to remind him “There’s no hiding from this son”.
Despite the 400,000 men who have no way of getting home, it’s Nolan’s use of each bullet that goes to show how isolated they are. It also becomes a way of pushing in the sense peril, the rattling of the war planes as they are hit several times by bullets, the explosions on the beach getting louder and louder as they approach you. It’s all encompassed by Han Zimmer’s stunning score, which is his best with Nolan yet. The use of sounds within the film being played along to Zimmer’s music, the thudding, the bangs, the piercing bullets as well as the sound of a ticking clock as if time is about to run out puts an intense and intimate atmosphere throughout the film.
Each and every moment has been designed to bring you as close to the edge of your seat as possible, it immerses you into the action without the use of 3D. If there was ever an argument for getting rid of 3D for good, this is it. A consistent visceral feeling which will remain with you for a long time. This will give you a hint of what it was really like on that beach, just without the danger.
5 out of 5.
Keep. It. Reel.