Sunday, 23 July 2017
Starring Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Gillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy. Music by Hans Zimmer, Written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan. Budget £150 million. Running time 106 minutes.
Told from three different perspectives, the land (port of Mole, where unnamed private, Fionn Whitehead fights to survive), the sea (Mark Rylance pilots his small boat to Dunkirk) and the air, (where RAF pilot Tom Hardy fights and flies for his life) this is a superbly directed and intense film made even more so by Hans Zimmer's sound track that utilises a ticking clock to add extra pressure.
Watching Whitehead's repeated attempts to get off the beach becomes almost unbearable, as does each of the three story arcs that finally collide with dramatic effect in a nail-biting finale.
Nolan directs with real aplomb and his staging of the action is fantastic, as is his ability to ratchet up the tension. However this is a strange, almost alien film. The streets of Dunkirk are utterly empty, naturally apart from the 300,000 stranded Tommies standing on the beaches, obediently queuing to be rescued. The cast apart from a few token female nurses is 100% male and most jarring there are no German soldiers to be seen and indeed for most of the film they are only referred to as 'the enemy', we never see the face of a single German solider, nor do we see a British soldier actually do any fighting. It's also a war film that is oddly devoid of blood or violence, nor gruesome battlefield gore, rest assured this is no Saving Private Ryan. And yet despite all of that, the impending sense of death pervades every frame of this film, the sense of guilt of the survivors, the uncomfortable awkwardness of the living towards the corpses of comrades that wash in with the tide, I've never seen a film that so makes you so fear for the living. Ultimately the film does feel a little too clean, everything spic and span, everything art-directed to perfection and everything too 'otherworldly' despite its slavish devotion to period detail.
I've read that this film has been critised for not having a plot or a story, but I beg to differ, just because a film doesn't have an 'arc' for its characters to follow doesn't mean it doesn't have a story. For me, just watching our groups of characters trying to survive and get off the goddam beach was more than story enough.
I breathed a sigh of relief when this was over, I was moved and involved, the 107 minutes flew by and I was left emotionally shaken.