Directed and Written by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, James D’Arcy
Is this the best war film ever made? It is certainly the most suspenseful, tension filled experience of the genre, perhaps of any genre.
Nolan delivers on every count. By splitting the film into three distinct parts that overlap – those at sea, those in the air, and those waiting on the beach – he manages to create incredible amounts of tension by putting soldiers in constant dire situations, but then cutting to another of these sections, pulling the viewer in as we wonder how the previous situation will transpire.
Dunkirk is also a film that is not pandering to as many people as possible; there is no love story shoe-horned into this film. In fact, there is not a female character at all. Considering the events of Dunkirk took place in WWII, during battle as the Luftwaffe flew overhead, Nolan should be applauded for this decision, as it is one of the many reasons this film will turn your knuckles white.
The score by Hans Zimmer is also a big reason for this; rather than a classical/traditional score filling the entire film, there are many moments that aren’t as traditional, culminating in Zimmer’s most unique and original work to date. There are also many long instances where the tense score continues for far longer than what one would expect, adding yet another layer to this incredible experience.
Also apparent and powerful is the juxtaposition of comradery amongst soldiers against the reality of survival in a war zone. There is as much brotherly behaviour as there is mistrust. This is largely thanks to the constant dire situations that Nolan inserts the soldiers into, depicting the impending sense of doom extremely effectively.
The casting is perfect. There is only one real big name, that being of course Mr. Hardy, but his face is covered for most of the film as he plays a pilot, and he doesn’t exactly have a ton of screen-time. In fact, there is no real lead character. The film is neatly and evenly divided, with Rylance a stern presence at sea, while both Kenneth Branagh and James D’Arcy depict the urgency of the situation on the beach – also known as The Mole – as officers trying to get their men home. The many, many soldiers are mostly played by smaller names, culminating in an experience not unlike Band of Brothers, where we don’t recognise many of the men from other material.
More of a tense thriller than a war film – there is little if any blood to be seen – this is a film that is difficult to fault. The levels of tension it achieves is nothing short of incredible, all the more-so considering we all know how the film ends. But even the ending is handled with extreme finesse and limited sentimentality. This is an incredibly suspenseful thriller that successfully conveys the awful atmosphere of war, all without any gore at all.
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