“You can practically see it from here.”
From the onset, Dunkirk explodes onto the beach. Getting home never felt so desperate, yet so within grasp to the point of sheer frustration. Tension abounds in this movie immediately as we are introduced to relative newcomer Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) who joins 400 000 other English and French troops thrust all the way back to Dunkirk after a failed campaign to stifle Hitler’s forces. Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, The Dark Knight Trilogy) is back at the helm to guide us through only a seemingly short snippett of history that has long-lasting impacts, with marvellous cinematography by fellow Interstellar collaborator Hoyte van Hoytema.
Fleeting references are shown towards the Hitler and even Churchill barely garners mentions with no screen time. Simply put it is a war movie, but it is sewn together like a trinity that links us to the land, the sea and the sky. Taking a non-linear approach to a historical sequence is in no way jarring as all three threads keep the pace frenetically consistent. Aided by this is the sheer feeling of sensing that you are actually in the campaign, since Nolan captures the same claustrophobic mood of Titanic mixed with the chilling sound of bullets zipping past as seen in Saving Private Ryan. Conflict is never confined to one area, and providing the 360 experience of the military disaster is a humble reminder that the end is always shadowing victory.
A unit is as strong as its weakest link, and with an impressive all star cast, there is little to sink the ship. Tommy adopts the “everyman” soldier that you might expect of the genre, yet his sympathy towards French “frogs” places him as one of the more decent characters. Kenneth Branagh’s Commander Bolton embodies the duty and tireless reserve of a nation determined never to give in. Fans will appreciate Harry Styles’ debut as a fellow private Alex, yet the main arsenal in this film’s reserve is the essentially British flavour that is present in many of the stories. A civilian hero defies naval instructions to await the signal and rescues a pilot at sea with only a tugboat, as well as many other nail-biting moments preceded by cups of tea. Among the horror and uncertainty of war, humour is sprinkled in a self-deprecating awareness that only the British can pull off.
Dunkirk sweeps you off your feet only to slap you in the face with sand, yet it’s an exhibition of sacrifice, courage and tenacity that steers clear of being a musty display in a museum. See it in 70mm.
It’s a deadshot.