Film review, by Claire Durrant, of the World War II drama Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy and with a cameo by former One Direction star Harry Styles.
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May 1940 saw Germany enclosing France and trapping Allied soldiers on Dunkirk. Told in three different stories during three different timelines, (one week, one day, one hour, respectively) the film portrays the evacuation of 330,000 soldiers and the endeavours various people went during this time.
Review, by Claire Durrant
Dunkirk is quite simply spectacular!
Presented in IMAX 70mm, the imagery is shot with stupendous details. Employing over 1,000 extras and using real ships and planes, with little CGI in use, director Christopher Nolan’s choice of favouring practical effects adds to how special this war film is.
Nolan has created a war film unlike many others. Films such as Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Pearl Harbor (2001) focus on the graphic imagery, with explosions and gore to illustrate the shock of war. Dunkirk is much more restrained in its violence, for it is more of a survivalist story. Every moment in this film, soldiers are waiting for either a saving grace or a German aircraft ready to bomb them.
That is not to say that Dunkirk is without its heavy moments. Ships and planes are burned down, people along with it. People drown, and as someone who has a fear of drowning, some scenes were hard to get through. There is a somber scene in which a soldier on the beach removes his helmet and walks straight in to the sea, obviously unable to cope any longer. Nolan doesn’t shy away from showing how tough this historical moment was.
In fact we feel this unnerving tenseness immediately. In the opening shot we are thrust straight in to the midst of war. Hans Zimmer’s relentless score begins, and it is reminiscent of a stopwatch; a constant ticking building up to some impending doom. That score continues to build and build and build and doesn’t end. Nolan and Zimmer have you on edge for the entire film.
Nolan has also chosen to focus little on character development. Speech is actually kept very minimum between our main soldiers on land. Names are also rarely mentioned. This adds to the realism of Dunkirk. I don’t imagine there was a perfect time for introductions or backstories when you’re constantly dodging bullets and bombs.
That being said, this choice means that it is hard to form a connection with the characters. The exception being Tom Hardy, (who bless him has to yet again act with a mask covering his mouth – which he does marvellously) because I will always cheer for Mr Hardy.
Luckily the film gets to boast a stellar cast. Mark Rylance giving a subtle performance as a sailor sailing to Dunkirk to rescue soldiers and Cillian Murphy is cast as the shell shocked ‘Shivering Soldier’ who Rylance saves. Rylance’s duty to help with the retreat and Murphy’s fear of returning to Dunkirk creates harrowing, but understandable drama.
Newcomer Fionn Whitehead also gives a profound and delicate execution as Tommy; the closest to a main character we get. Tommy’s main goal is just to get home. He’s not your straightforward heroic soldier, he’s a teenager who wants to live. The soldiers we spend time with are mostly young, unfamiliar actors, which gives their journey a more pragmatic tone. Whereas the bigger named stars you see as actors, these younger actors are easily seen as scared soldiers.
That being said, the fact that Harry Styles is currently the only person nominated for awards, as well as being the first name to appear when you google the cast, is quite simply an insult. Yes, the boyband singer features in this. Oh mon dieu! Whilst his performance is not cringeworthy, he doesn’t do anything spectacular to warrant such praise. He’s also not that prominent in the film, which I’m sure is much to the distain of young females who suddenly have gained an interest in WWII.
Dunkirk, like most films based on true horrific events, should be taken with a grain of salt. I know it has recently come under some scrutiny in terms of how accurate it is, but if you view it solely on the film itself, then your eyes are in for a treat. Nolan and his team have created an aesthetically pleasing piece of work. While I don’t think it’s the most interesting or engaging war film, it’s definitely an important one. See it on the big screen.
For more information about the film, see the official website.
Cast and Credits
Director: Christopher Nolan. 146mins. Warner Bros/Dombey Street Productions/Kaap Holland Film. (12a)
Producers: Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas.
Writer: Christopher Nolan.
Camera: Hoyte Van Hoytema.
Music: Hans Zimmer.
Sets: Nathan Crowley.
Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles.