Dunkirk tells the story of the biggest military evacuation in history involving 400,000 allied troops that faced certain death or capture by the German army that had them surrounded. What followed became known as the miracle of Dunkirk, with 338,226 souls successfully rescued. A fleet of over eight hundred vessels, many of them civilian boats crossed the English channel facing horrific scenes to bring their fellow countrymen home.
It's fair to say, that the Dunkirk story has made it on screen many times. But when Christopher Nolan took on this project it was clear that this film would be like no other. Nolan is easily one of the biggest talents in modern cinema today. So it comes as no surprise, that Dunkirk is nothing short of a masterpiece. Visually the film is outstanding, shot in Imax creating a truly immersive experience for the viewer.
The result is a huge scale portrayal of the horrors experienced. That places the audience right in the heart of the action, whether it is on land, sea or air. However, Nolan's choice to film this way can be a little overwhelming at times but this is what makes this portrayal of the events at Dunkirk incredibly realistic. Top this off with a timebomb of a soundscore from Hans Zimmer and you have one of the tensest war films ever made.
At first glance, the cast looks fantastic. But, none of them are stealing the show in any way. For example, Tom Hanks's character in Saving Private Ryan is a clear figurehead right through the film. Yet, Nolan makes the choice to keep the focus firmly on the sheer numbers by casting the likes of Cillian Murphy as “shivering soldier”. It's clear that he wanted the camera to be the main star in Dunkirk.
But for me, this was a choice that left the film a little disjointed. Yes, we have Kenneth Brannagh giving his usual Shakespearean tragic leader bit. But, if you are hoping to see the brilliant Tom Hardy shine, you may be a little disappointed. A sure standout comes from the pairing of Barry Keoghan and Mark Rylance, who set out in one of the little ships of Dunkirk. They both give strong performances but also seem strangely the only characters that give the view of the many civilians involved in the rescue.
Don't get me wrong here, I understand why Nolan went for this choice. In many ways, I completely agree with his decision to not place too much attention on any one person. He certainly achieves a deeply unnerving and detailed view across many people. However, the constant switch of narrative can be a little exhausting.
Now, it does seem that I have just ripped Dunkirk to shreds. But as far as I am concerned, I would have loved this film so much more if we got to know a little more about some key characters. And yet I would still recommend that everyone should watch Dunkirk. The simple reason is, with Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan has made a film that is quite unlike any other, it's amazing what he crams into less than two hours.