Sunday, July 30, 2017
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk is a dramatic re-telling of the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II in which three different stories are happening during the course of the event. Told on land, sea, and the air, the film follows the lives of soldiers, pilots, and people from Britain who try to escape from the Germans in Northern France. Starring Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Mark Rylance. Dunkirk is a gripping and evocative film from Christopher Nolan.
In 1940 at the Northern-French coast of Dunkirk, thousands of British soldiers are trying to flee the country following France’s defeat to the Germans as naval ships are being sunk with many hoping for a miracle. The film is about this major event in World War II in which many British soldiers are stuck on the beaches of Dunkirk as they’re dealing with German warplanes and forces coming into the city as the French try to hold them off with three different things happening all in the span of a week on land, a day on the sea, and an hour on air. Christopher Nolan’s screenplay is presented in a somewhat non-linear narrative where time is distorted as it showcases what is happening as characters from the different storylines don’t interact in the course of the evacuation. These three different storylines are each given a different title based on its setting as they all would intertwine throughout the course of the film as some of these characters in the different stories would meet with one another to provide some multiple perspectives of what is happening.
The first story entitled The Mole refers to the stranded soldiers on land as they’re trying to evacuate as Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) is watching over the evacuation as he converses Colonel Winnant (James D’Arcy) over what is happening as they believe many of the soldiers will be left behind. Three of these soldiers including Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), Gibson (Aneurin Barnard), and Alex (Harry Styles) struggle to survive as they try to evacuate and endure everything that has been thrown at them. The second story entitled The Sea revolves around what is happening where a mariner in Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) decides to sail to Dunkirk to save the soldiers with the help of Peter’s friend George (Barry Keoghan) where they would pick-up a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy). In the third story called The Air, two British pilots in Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) fight off against German planes and bombers as the former contends with a malfunction in his fuel gauge.
Nolan’s direction is definitely riveting from start to finish as he doesn’t go for anything that showcase who these characters are before what is happening as it’s more about what is happening in Dunkirk and these soldiers trying to survive. Shot on the actual location at Dunkirk beach in France with some of it shot in Great Britain and the Netherlands with the ship interiors shot in the U.S. Nolan decides to create this sense of immediacy and terror that looms throughout the film as it just keeps going where there is no idea what will happen next. Shot on 65mm film and 65mm IMAX film stocks, Nolan would use the wide shots to capture the vastness of the locations including the English Channel to see how big the evacuation was and how many small boats and ships were there to save these soldiers from imminent doom. There are some close-ups and medium shots to display that terror including some hand-held cameras that help create that suspense and terror in scenes where a German plane is flying and ready to attack the soldiers on the beach.
For a film where so much is happening all at the same time or what happened a few minutes before, Nolan doesn’t stray from the human story as he does showcase these small moments that play into characters dealing with what is happening and figuring out how to survive. Whether it’s on a small boat or inside a plane, Nolan always show what these characters are looking into as well as the fact that he never shows the face of the enemy throughout the entirety of the film. There are also these moments amidst this massive shroud of darkness that showcase not just a glimmer of hope but also the sense of good in humanity amidst the plague of fear looming. Especially as Nolan would put in that sense of historical context into how important the evacuation was as a touchstone moment for Britain. Overall, Nolan crafts a thrilling yet rapturous film about the real-life Dunkirk evacuation that was a pivotal moment for Britain’s role in World War II.
Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema does phenomenal work with the film’s cinematography from the sunny look in some scenes set in the sea to the greyer look of the scenes on land and in the air as well as some nighttime shots with the usage of fire for lighting specifics. Editor Lee Smith does incredible work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts and some stylish non-linear cutting that help provide different perspective of the events that happen in the film as it is a highlight of the film. Production designer Nathan Crowley, with set decorators Emmanuel Delis and Gary Fettis plus supervising art directors Kevin Ishioka and Eggert Ketilsson, does excellent work with the look of the interior of some of the naval ships as well as Mr. Dawson’s ship and the decayed pier at the Dunkirk beach. Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland does superb work with the costumes as it is mostly some army and naval uniforms which Commander Bolton wears in the latter.
Special effects supervisors Ian Corbould and Paul Corbould, along with visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson, does fantastic work with the usage of practical effects for some of the aerial scenes with a few bits of computer-based effects for set dressing and crowd scenes. Sound editor Richard King does brilliant work with the sound to create a sense of atmosphere from the sound of planes flying in the air to the sound of torpedoes and bomb as the sound is often filled with terror as it is another of the film’s highlights. The film’s music by Hans Zimmer is amazing for its orchestral-based score with its offbeat arrangements in the percussions and sound as it help play into the suspense with some more somber pieces in the drama as it is one of Zimmer’s finest scores of his career.
The casting by John Papsidera and Toby Whale is great as it does feature a couple of notable small roles from Jochum ten Haaf as a Dutch seaman and the voice of Michael Caine as a radio communications man talking to Farrier and Collins. Jack Lowden is superb as the air force pilot Collins as a man trying to do whatever he can to stop the Germans from sinking ships and kill soldiers as he would also have a moment of terror of his own. Tom Hardy is excellent as Farrier as an air force pilot who is dealing with the malfunction of his fuel gauge as he is aware of how low he is on fuel but knows what he has to do as he doesn’t show much of his face except his eyes to show what must be done. Fionn Whitehead is fantastic as the young soldier Tommy who is the first character shown in the film as someone dealing with trying to survive while Harry Styles is wonderful as Alex as another young soldier who is also trying to survive but also has suspicions toward something that he feels is off. Aneurin Barnard is terrific as Gibson as a young soldier who is also trying to survive as he spends much of the film not saying very much.
Barry Keoghan is amazing as a 15-year old boy in George who helps Mr. Dawson and his son in retrieving soldiers on the sea while Tom Glynn-Carney is brilliant as Mr. Dawson’s son Peter as a young man who is helping his father as well as converse with those he saves. Mark Rylance is marvelous as Mr. Dawson as a civilian who decides to go to Dunkirk with his son and George in an act to help soldiers without having the navy to take his boat as he is aware of what is at stake. Cillian Murphy is incredible as a shell-shocked soldier Mr. Dawson saves as he copes with what he’s experienced as he’s in a state of shock. James D’Arcy is remarkable as Colonel Winnant as an officer trying to make sense of what is going on as well as wondering what is next for Britain in World War II. Finally, there’s Kenneth Branagh in a phenomenal performance as Commander Bolton as a naval officer trying to manage the evacuation as well as pondering if there is some form of miracle as his performance is just the most touching in the way he reacts to that glimmer of hope.
Dunkirk is an outstanding film from Christopher Nolan. Featuring a great ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, top-notch technical work in the editing and sound, Hans Zimmer’s enthralling score, and an inventive script that creates a sense of terror and intrigue. It’s a war film that just goes head on into what is happening as it’s told in multiple perspective from the soldiers stuck at the beach, on sea, and air to the civilians who travel from their homeland to bring their boys back home. In the end, Dunkirk is a magnificent film from Christopher Nolan.
Christopher Nolan Films: Following - Memento - Insomnia (2002 film) - Batman Begins - The Prestige - The Dark Knight - Inception - The Dark Knight Rises - Interstellar - Tenet - (Oppenheimer) - The Auteurs #13: Christopher Nolan
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