Frances Winston urges you to go and see this film, which is told through the frightened eyes of the people involved.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan – Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
It is astonishing to think that there has never been a major movie made about the evacuation at Dunkirk during the early stages of WWII. Since it wasn’t a victory, but rather a rescue mission, perhaps it wasn’t deemed ‘sexy’ enough to merit the blockbuster treatment. Until now that is.
Writer and director, Nolan, has spent 25 years percolating this idea, since he and his wife sailed across the English Channel to Dunkirk, and his passion for the project is completely apparent.
Forget everything you think you know about war movies. This totally spins the concept on its head. In fact, it is more a human drama than a war film. At no point do you actually see any German soldiers, and there is no Saving Private Ryan type gory brutality. What you get instead is a tale told through the frightened eyes of the people involved on land, sea and air.
For those of you who don’t know, Operation Dynamo, as it was called, was the epic evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk in mid-1940. What makes this stand out from other rescue efforts during wartime, is the civilian effort that went into bringing these men home. Men and women boarded their own boats and set sail to help the trapped soldiers.
Although Nolan uses fictional characters to tell his tale, he captures the spirit and horror of the actual events. We have the terrified young soldiers, the stoic father and son just trying to do their bit, there are the airmen bravely tackling the German planes to keep them from reaching the forces on the beaches, and the weary officers who have to make life or death decisions about those in their charge.
The story is crafted with surprisingly little dialogue, but you absolutely feel the fear and anxiety that people are suffering. Despite the stellar cast, this is absolutely an ensemble piece, and no one person is highlighted at the expense of the story. Every single performance is part of the bigger picture, the cast are truly wonderful, and there are some amazing little moments between characters that will leave you with a lump in your throat.
In terms of cinematography, this is an absolute masterpiece. It is truly visually stunning, and the look of the film is complemented perfectly by some stunning sound-mixing, and a haunting soundtrack from Hans Zimmer. Despite the vast scale of the story and setting, it feels quite intimate. It also feels quite real, with practical effects rather than CGI taking centre stage. This is modern movie-making done old school. And it works.
Nolan has completely turned contemporary filmmaking on its head here. He’s taken a story that would usually be a subplot and turned it into an epic drama. On paper, this is the antithesis of a Hollywood blockbuster. But it is a magnificent artistic masterpiece, and a truly compelling story about everyday heroism. It is the type of movie that demands processing, and it will resonate with you long after you leave the cinema. You’ll run the emotional gamut, and your eyes may become moist on more than one occasion. This definitely has the makings of a modern classic that people will be watching for decades to come, and talking about fondly.
Nolan intended this to be seen on film, and I had the privilege of seeing it on 70mm, and if you do have the option of that format or 35mm in your nearest cinema, I would absolutely recommend that that is how you see it. But either way, just see it. Because it is truly one of the best cinematic experiences you will have this year – maybe even this decade.
In Cinemas Today, July 21st! See Trailer Below: