Dunkirk

by Toby Woollaston

dunkirkChristopher Nolan’s Dunkirk remains a giant at the international box office despite entering its fourth week of release. What better time than now to offer a belated review and perhaps offer a pearl of insight not observed by the mountain of glowing praise by other critics.  Well, I’m afraid to report that I have little to add to what has already been said about Dunkirk.  So … sorry if this sounds a bit like a broken record.

It is difficult to find fault in a film such as Dunkirk.  Certainly on a technical level the film is flawless and it’s nice to see director Christopher Nolan putting his unique stamp on a film that, from a historical perspective, deserves special treatment. Anyone who is familiar with Nolan’s work will know that he is a master of fractured storytelling.  Memento, Interstellar, and Inception all have their timelines and locales carefully woven together, giving a satisfying conclusion to their fragmented beginnings. Dunkirk is no different.

It offers a snapshot of the 1941 evacuation of four hundred thousand allied troops from the titular French beach, having been surrounded by “the enemy” (interestingly, Nolan decided to use this term rather than being more specific). The film avoids broader political or tactical concerns, instead offering (as best as it can) a first hand experience of a small collection of players within a triptych of theatres; air, sea, and land—surely a wink to Churchill’s famous “We shall fight them on the …” speech.

Dunkirk opens with a scant supply of visual cues to orientate us before thrusting us head-first into the fray of white knuckled intensity.  With no release valve to relieve the pressure, this film proves to be an exhausting experience.  Planes dive bomb like dragons, and the water is rife with torpedoes, while the seconds slip away on imminent help.  Nolan’s masterful orchestration of sight and sound offer a visceral experience that hits home the intensity of war. A decision to err on real craft rather than CGI has certainly paid off here.

My only quibble would be its limited character development and back story. Although, the film’s modus operandi relegated such luxuries surplus to requirements. After all, any film that makes Harry Styles appear like a seasoned actor must be doing something right.

You can see my published reviews here.

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