Dunkirk – Nolan’s stirring ode to the indefatigable human spirit
War does not determine who is right – only who is left
Still remember thinking that this bloke has finally lost it on hearing that auteur filmmaker #ChristopherNolan was next making a war film. Not that his last few films were not good. DARK KNIGHT RISES, INCEPTION or INTERSTELLAR were all very good, extraordinary in parts even. But then with MEMENTO, PRESTIGE and THE DARK KNIGHT, Nolan had set lofty standards. Nolan’s competition was Nolan himself. And why, pray a #War film? From #DavidLean (BRIDGE ON RIVER KWAI) and #Coppola (APOCALYPSE NOW) to #Kubrick (FULL METAL JACKET) and #Spielberg (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) not to forget #Tarantino (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) the greatest in Hollywood had explored all there was to. What new perspective could Nolan possibly bring to this genre? The English-American director answers this emphatically with DUNKIRK. And then some.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Sir #WinstonChurchill is regarded as one of the tallest leaders in world history and not without reason. He became the British #PrimeMinister an year after the Second World War began in the year 1940. And the #BattleOfDunkirk that took place almost as soon as he assumed power was a trial by fire for Churchill, so to speak. Nolan’s film is about the evacuation of more than 3,00,000 #AlliedForces holed up in the French port of Dunkirk. If the Germans who had succeeded Europe would have fallen and who knows, the War itself would have perhaps taken a whole different course. To this day the British take inspiration from what is referred to in local parlance as the #DunkirkSpirit.
SCRIPT, SCREENPLAY & DIALOGUES
Remember the final act in THE DARK KNIGHT? Where multiple tracks (of the two ferries, Two-Face and the #Joker) all run parallel to each other building up to a deafening crescendo in the climax? Nolan uses this very edgy style of narration throughout the one half forty minutes duration of DUNKIRK. Here the nerve wracking real life incident is told through three different stories. The land, the air and the sea. Here is the catch. The battle on the beach lasts a week while action in the sea got over in a day and the air battle? That got over in an hour. The locations and the time frames are also completely varied. But Nolan, the master of the #NonLinearNarrative weaves all three so seamlessly into the narrative that you would need to pay real close attention to notice. For those who haven’t watched Nolan’s films he is considerate enough to put up the various locations & time frames on the screen.
On top of this Nolan chooses to move away from the standard template when it comes to films in this genre. One, there are no back stories told (It is only in the very end that you learn that the sailor Mr Dawson’s elder son died in battle) Instead Nolan simply air drops the audience right in the middle of the action. Two, there are no pitched gun battles, no body parts flying, no blood letting. Heck you don’t get to see the enemy even once. Three, there are no heroes or villains here. All you see is a bunch of men desperately trying to escape death. And finally the minimal dialogues compensated for by a soundtrack that is a character in it’s own right. #HansZimmer, take a bow. The result is a uniquely immersive viewing experience of the kind that one has not had at the movies. Since James Cameron’s AVATAR. Minus the #VFX. 17 years after writing MEMENTO, Nolan finally has written something that has matched up. In thought, ingenuity and execution.
It was in the extraordinary 2008 Swedish vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN that one first came to know of the half Dutch half Swedish lensman #HoyteVanHoytema. And his work in Nolan’s last film INTERSTELLAR was magnificent too (remember the stunning visuals of the new planet where the astronauts led by Matthew McConaughey land?) But without a shred of doubt DUNKIRK is Van Hoytema’s finest hour. The aerial scenes of the fighter planes skimming the surface of the sea are itself worth the price of your cinema ticket. Or the horrifying scene where a ship deck filled with soldiers happily tucking into food attacked by a torpedo and meeting a watery grave. Hoytema’s expert lens is intimate when needed and sweeping at other times. The German maestro Hans Zimmer whose best work till date is arguably THE DARK KNIGHT (though it was a collaboration with #JamesNewtonHoward) has ably shouldered the responsibility given to him by Nolan. In a film where very little is spoken it is the haunting soundtrack by Hans Zimmer that spooks audiences creating a sense of foreboding rarely seen before at the movies.
Nolan’s films usually boast of a stellar cast and have featured some of the greatest actors of our times from #MichaelCaine, #RobinWilliams, #GaryOldman & #MorganFreeman to #HeathLedger and Christian Bale. This time Nolan opts for a relatively new cast of lesser known actors. The only big name here is the Irish actor #KennethBranagh as a Commander of the #RoyalNavy. Watch the scene at the end where looking at the hundreds of small fishing boats (famous in history as the little ships of Dunkirk) arriving to rescue his men, a despondent Branagh becomes hopeful at the chance of being able to get home. And gives the film one of it’s only emotional scenes. Poignant! Tom Hardy does not count simply because there is only so much acting you can do with most of your face covered in a plane’s cockpit. What is it that Nolan has against Hardy, one wonders for this is twice in a row (after DARK KNIGHT RISES) this has happened. English theatre veteran #MarkRylance who won an Oscar a couple of years ago for Spielberg’s BRIDGE OF SPIES is rivetting as the sailor determined to play his part in rescuing as many soldiers as possible.
DUNKIRK really belongs to a bunch of newcomers who all shine. Ex boyband singer Harry Styles is surprisingly good in a role with grey shades and comes into his own in the scene where he is holed up in a trawler used by the Germans for ‘target practice’ Nolan regular Cillian Murphy is effective as a on-the-edge soldier rescued at sea by Mr Dawson and his son but his role is limited. Tom Glynn-Carney is solid as Rylance’s son Peter who must show maturity beyond his years in the face of great adversity. The surprise package of the film is the duo of Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard. In many ways it is through the eyes of these two young lads that the whole action unfolds before the audience. From the incredibly scene right at the start of DUNKIRK where the two carry a wounded man on the stretcher on to a ship about to leave, the narrative follows the various attempts by these two to escape only to end up in a bigger mess. Barnard as the French soldier posing to be a British one named Gibson in order to get to safe shores is outstanding. Inspite of having almost no dialogues in the film you can always sense from his demeanor that something bad is about to happen. Like in the scene where he is monitoring the deck for an escape route while the others are helping themselves to food & drink. The heartbreaking scene where he drowns in the end stays with you long after the film has ended.
Christopher Nolan has a body of work which other directors can only dream of. His films have grossed upwards of $4 billion in box office receipts. At the same time they are visceral enough to appeal to the most harsh of critics even making him unique in Hollywood. For all those who felt that his last three films did not match up to the gargantuan expectations that a Nolan creation generates DUNKIRK should prove to be a thoroughly invigorating experience. Is this his best film? That is difficult to say given that his films have all traversed a variety of genres but must say that this is his most assured work till date. Watch the way he weaves Winston Churchill’s stirring speech into the narrative at the end and you know that you are watching a master at the peak of his powers. Will end this review with a few lines from that very speech.
” We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds
We shall fight in the fields and in the streets
We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender ”
DUNKIRK is by far the best movie of this year and will be a difficult act to match let alone surpass. It is also among the TOP 3 films of Nolan and it might just get him the nod at the Oscars at the end of the year. If you can, watch it on an IMAX screen for a truly epic viewing experience.