Review // Dunkirk

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The heart of British stoicism pulses like the tide in this outstanding epic, chronicling the greatest military disaster in our history.

Told from 3 different viewpoints, Dunkirk is the story of the 400,000 men left surrounded by German forces in Northern France, featuring Fionn Whitehead as a young Private stranded on the beach, Tom Hardy as an RAF pilot and Mark Rylance as a civilian captaining a drafted boat. Among these stars feature an incredibly talented supporting cast including Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles in his feature debut and Kenneth Branagh as commander of the beached forces.

The week-long ordeal is neatly split up across the three stories, each with their own climaxes and conclusion. Whitehead as the young “Tommy” is joined by Styles and Aneurin Bernard, forming a group of soldiers desperately trying to flee the beach. Tom Hardy gives a great performance almost entirely from the cockpit of a spitfire in airborne sequences that are absolutely enthralling. The civilian boat ordeal contains a sombre story, highlighting the sacrifices that everyday people made in order to rescue the stranded soldiers. In a jam packed 1hr 50mins, the film is never far from the action, avoiding politics altogether and all the better for it.

Nolan has been careful not to glorify any of the evacuation and every aspect of Dunkirk contains an element of struggle. From the constant screeching of the German bombers to the landscapes that never quite shake their misty coats, bleakness permeates every level. Hoyte Van Hoytema, cinematographer of Interstellar returned to shoot Dunkirk and the two are strikingly similar visually, having traded the heavens for the seas. Yet where Interstellar was technically contrived, Dunkirk is far simpler, allowing full cinematic freedom to be explored.

Screened in various formats including the holy grail of 70mm, Dunkirk is pure cinema at it’s finest. The production cost alone of shooting on such expensive film could only ever be justified by a director such as Nolan, and justified is the word. Having produced a film as fine as this, it would be unjust for anything other than a slew of oscar nominations to be thrown his way with a view to a clean sweep come awards season.

Dunkirk is a much a treat for the ears as it is for the eyes. A truly dread-inducing score from Hans Zimmer, complimented by terrifying sound effects bring the audience as close to war as is comfortable. It contains very little dialogue, focusing on the physical journey, allowing their exhausting movements and relentless obstacles to tell the story without unnecessary distraction. But when required, the speeches are moving and words are certainly not wasted.

In a career that has spanned more than two decades, Christopher Nolan joins the increasingly small list of directors who deal exclusively in cinematic works of art. Almost certainly his best film, Dunkirk must rank among the greatest British films and solidify his place as one of the best living filmmakers.

77 years on, there can hardly be a more terrifyingly realistic interpretation of this great disaster. Do yourself a favour and see this spectacle on this biggest possible screen and enjoy what will undoubtedly be remembered as a landmark film.

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Author: cultfilmedinburgh

Edinburgh's monthly cult film screening community.

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