War movies are often violent and heroic, or either of those things. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, on the other hand, is a film that literally gives the audience the true feeling and experience of the actual war as it depicts the battle of Dunkirk (Dunkerque, France), during World War II. It’s not a traditional war film, and it certainly doesn’t follow a traditional story structure either. Dunkirk is an amazing film that deserves to be seen in the best IMAX theater possible.
The battle of Dunkirk was a military operation fought between the Allies and the Nazis. Nolan’s film takes an interesting route for a war film, as there is no protagonist, and none of the biggest characters in this film are played by well known actors. Nolan intentionally cast unknown actors, while most of the supporting players are portrayed by better known actors, like Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, & Mark Rylance. Although Tommy (played by Fionn Whitehead), a soldier who gets top billing and opens the film, Dunkirk’s storytelling is centered around three specific stories in a Memento-esque, out of order fashion, and are referred to as the Mole, the Sea, and the Air. One story begins on land and covers a week; another story begins on sea and covers a day; and the final story begins in the air and covers only one hour. The three stories involve the soldiers of Dunkirk fending off enemy attacks: a private ship that ends up in the middle of the battle and picks up a wounded soldier played by Cillian Murphy, and a pilot named Farrier (played by Tom Hardy), trying to take two other spitfire pilots across the English Channel.
If there was really a word I could use to describe Dunkirk as an overall film, it would be relentless. The film will literally have you on the edge of your seat. Dunkirk is as if you took the first act of Saving Private Ryan and stretched it out over a 100 minutes runtime. It’s that intense. It’s not super-bloody (rated PG-13), but it is more violent in how bombs, dog-fights, and guns are blasted. Helping the film is Hans Zimmer’s intense musical score, which, in his typical fashion, serves as both sound design (you can hear a recurring beeping tick tock noise in the background), and creating a sense of constant dread.
While most of the performances in Dunkirk are fine, including Kenneth Branagh as a Captain who spends most of the film waving his hat, Mark Rylance as a ship owner named Mr. Dawson, Hardy’s Farrier pilot (my favorite character), and even singer Harry Styles surprising me in a decent way as a young pilot, it’s really the experience that takes center-stage. Even though the story is simple, the scale of Dunkirk is huge, with real battleships, real planes, and real weapons, in typical Nolan fashion, the use of CGI (computer generated images) is limited. This makes the film’s intensity all the more successful.Dunkirk is an intense, brutal war film, because it literally makes the audience feel like they’re actually in the battlefield with the use of sparse dialogue in certain scenes helping. Once I came out of the cinema after seeing Dunkirk, the first thing I said was “They weren't kidding, it is the real deal. I'm glad it was only an hour and forty-five minutes, because otherwise I may have felt pure dread just like those soldiers.” This film is not for the faint of the heart or those who don’t like their films loud. It is, however, a superb piece of filmmaking.