Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dunkirk (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 106 minutes
Writer/Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Cillian Murphy, James D'Arcy, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, Jack Lowden, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan

Dunkirk will be released in Australia by Roadshow Films on July 20 and in the United States by Warner Bros Pictures on July 21. 

When it comes to his films, Christopher Nolan is no stranger to winning the approval of audience's and critics alike. Yet with Dunkirk, he takes this admiration to a whole new level.

Dunkirk is a major cinematic force with Nolan's masterful storytelling and phenomenal direction. The film is a stunning piece of art that retells a well known piece of history in an unique, intense and enthralling way. While Dunkirk is being hailed as Nolan's finest film to date, it does not need to be grouped together with his past films in order to be considered a stroke of genius.

The events which took place on the beach at Dunkirk are considered to be a miracle. The prospect of a mass evacuation of over 300000 British troops on the French beach during World War II initially seemed impossible due to the lack of resources needed for a rescue. This story has been taught in classrooms all over the world as part of WWII studies and there have been several retellings in popular culture. However, none quite like Dunkirk. 

The film is a tense and intriguing time lapse of three equally important facets of the most important day at Dunkirk- land, sea and air. Dunkirk is not a typical war narrative, as it represents just a snapshot in time and is driven entirely by the theme of survival. For the soldiers waiting on the beach, they were defenceless against the enemy. There was no way of fighting back against the bombers from the ground. The film shows the desperation of the soldiers as they fight for their life and how far people will go to stay alive. It also looks at how survival itself is heroic and is something that is to be celebrated, not scorned.


The inherent nature of films that deal with survival is that they must be suspenseful. Whether the viewer knows who will survive or not is irrelevant. Dunkirk is so intense that it often makes one forget to breathe. The film is just the perfect example of everything coming together to get the most out of it's screenplay. Nolan brings a trio of moments of warfare terror together all at once at regular intervals throughout the film to build tension to the highest level, with the help of Hans Zimmer's brilliant score and phenomenal sound editing. These scenes come with incredible sweeping shots of Dunkirk and astonishing cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema of land, sea and sky.

It is easy to look at the characterization in Dunkirk the way you would at other feature films, in which case it would be exceptionally weak. We come away knowing very little about each of the main characters.This would usually mean we feel no emotional connection towards anybody in the film and do not care whether they survive or not. However, the lack of identity of each of the characters serves a purpose here.

There were 400000 soldiers stranded on the beach at Dunkirk hoping for a miracle that would allow them survive and find their own way home. It didn't matter who these soldiers were at home, while they were at war they were all stripped of their identity and nameless and faceless in the eyes of the enemy. During those final days at Dunkirk, it was all about survival no matter who you were and where you were from. Most of the soldiers cast are physically alike to emphasise this point. Despite the lack of character in the film, there are some wonderful performances with Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy being stand-outs.

Dunkirk is stunning filmmaking. While it is confronting and incredibly intense, it is gratifyingly so thanks to Christopher Nolan's outstanding direction and creative vision.

9/10

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