Verdict: Breathe in your fears, as Nolan takes you through this claustrophobic thriller.
It has been three years since Christopher Nolan's last film released. So far he has explored the human mind through concepts of memory (Memento), sleep (Insomnia), dreams (Inception) and fears (The Dark Knight Trilogy). He then experimented with physics and magic with The Prestige; and pushed the boundaries of science itself with Interstellar. Not to mention the constant factor of time he always incorporated. What was he going to do next? War.
War changes men, breaking the strongest of them. It brings with it a lot of fears. The obvious ones showcased in this film are drowning, abandonment and claustrophobia – which occurs as one always seems to be running out of space and safety. The opening scene of Dunkirk features leaflets reading "We Surround You" literally falling from the sky. As our on-screen heroes suffocate, you feel uncomfortable too.
The film wastes no time dumping us headfirst into the chaos. The premise, based on a true story, is straightforward – Allied soldiers, mainly from Britain and France, are surrounded by the German Army on the beaches of Dunkirk and are evacuated during the early stages of the Second World War.
The film narrates the story through three aspects – air, land, and sea, constantly switching between the three, irrespective of time frames. It's Nolan's shortest film since his debut – Following – back in 1998. It is the relentless pace of the film that makes it a heavy 100 minutes or so.
Don't expect a complicated storyline or comprehensive characters that you're naturally accustomed to in a Nolan movie. Don't expect sci-fi either, obviously. This is Nolan's mastery of storytelling, purely through depiction and portrayal. While most of Nolan's films can be appreciated for its visuals, this one too, although not pleasant to look at, is often breathtaking. Hoyte van Hoytema must be lauded for the simple, yet not simplistic, but highly effective cinematography of the film.
Nolan manages to capture the perspectives of all types of characters during the war – the intelligent, the opportunists, the heroic, the cowards, the civilians, the captains, the pilots, the fighters, the survivors, the traumatized, the wounded and even the ones killed. Fighter pilot Tom Hardy plays yet another masked character in a Nolan film. Known for 'acting with his eyes', it isn't a coincidence that he was cast as a pilot. All other actors, from the expert Mark Rylance to the debutante Harry Styles, have their acts on point.
With the non-stop background score, there is never a silent moment in this film. Hans Zimmer has outdone himself with these chilling sounds. A veteran in superhero film scores, this film sees him explore a plethora of sounds – right from the representational ticking clock to the sinister strings of near death. Fun fact – the ticking clock sound by Zimmer happens to be rendered from Nolan's very own pocket watch.
Don't expect even a brief moment of happiness or triumph. This is a devastating depiction of war, and what it inflicts on humankind. It's more than a war film, it is a survival film. A film about the suddenness of death and leaving one's fate to chance. With very little dialogue, the faces of the helpless soldiers say enough. Here's something interesting – not even once is the enemy (the Germans) shown on screen, nor is the word 'Germans' mentioned. Whether they are gunning from a distance or dropping bombs from planes, you never see who they are. The idea behind this is to focus only on the soldiers' predicament from their perspective.
Nolan keeps it old school as always, by shooting on IMAX 65 mm, extensively using practical effects with minimal CGI, employing 6000 extras, assembling boats that had participated in the real Dunkirk evacuation, and using genuine planes too. And yes, he actually shot this in Dunkirk, France.
This is easily one of the most unique war movies you'll ever see. More than the story itself, it is the manner in which it is told – the sheer magnitude of distress couldn't be higher than depicted on-screen. Hold your breath. It's going to be a narrow escape.
Why You Should Watch This Movie:
As gripping as it gets, Nolan's take on war and survival is unmissable. For more reasons, check why you musn't miss Dunirk here.