THE SHORT REVIEW: Nolan’s Dunkirk is the war film you have to see this summer. Aided by a beautifully scored soundtrack, this film hits you with an endless barrage of intensity throughout.
Christopher Nolan’s track record is admirable. Momento (2000), The Dark Knight (2008) and Inception (2010) are some of the best films to come out in the past 20 years. He definitely has a knack for visually stunning storytelling, but I can happily say that his latest war-thriller, Dunkirk, is a masterpiece. It demands multiple viewings, closer inspection and utmost respect. There’s plenty about this film that makes it so impressive, but its soundtrack and its visuals are what makes this blockbuster stand considerably higher than the rest.
It’s the norm for films to rely too heavily on a star-studded cast to carry it to success. I’ve definitely been guilty of going to watch a film because a certain somebody is in it, only to leave the theatre annoyed (at myself) that I spent £20 on an absolute disappointment. So, when I heard that ex-One Direction star Harry Styles was to appear in Dunkirk, I was cynical. “Just a corporate attempt to make more money”, I told myself. Like Ed Sheeran’s recent Game of Thrones cameo that, in my opinion, did not sit right, I was worried that seeing Styles in a film like this would completely take me out of it. I’m happy to say I was completely wrong. Styles, along with Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh make up just part of a talented cast with truly believable performances.
However, Dunkirk doesn’t rely on dialogue. In fact, there’s a surprisingly little amount in its 1 hour 45 minute run-time. What Nolan has done is wisely choose when words are unnecessary. It could easily have been made without any speech and be equally as powerful. Instead, Nolan focuses on the beautiful visuals of the English Channel and beaches of Dunkirk to tell the story of 400,000 stranded Allied troops. With the beach about to be taken by the Nazis, soldiers lay waiting for rescue boats, both military and civilian, to take them home. There’s no need for exposition because we all know the story of Dunkirk, but if not, the desperate situation of the British and French in 1940 is made clear in the first 10 minutes. It’s efficient; trimming the fat to make way for something more special.
That something special is Dunkirk‘s musical score. Hans Zimmer, whose discography should be on everyone’s Epic Morning Wake-Up Playlist, helps bring the horrors of war crashing through the screen. It’s the type of soundtrack that doesn’t let you rest, and rightly so. It’s as close as any of us can get to feeling a fraction of the type of chaos that the characters of Dunkirk felt. If you’re about to go and see this film, pay attention to the music because it will help keep you completely stuck on the edge of your seat.
That edge-of-your-seat feeling in Dunkirk is made better by the non-linear storytelling. You’ll quickly realise that what transpires in the film is edited in a way to keep the thrill constant. If it seems a little confusing at first, stick with it. Scenes are often kept quite short and jump from one character’s story to the next. But, the characters are kept quasi-anonymous throughout, which works perfectly. It’s incredibly skillful film-making to make you care about characters you know so little about. Plus, it doesn’t rely on vilifying the enemy in order to rally the viewers together. Besides the personal responses by characters to German planes getting shot down, Nazi characters are not that necessary to the plot and so stay quite out-of-sight. This really is a story about the survivors and not the conflict itself.
Christopher Nolan has managed to create one of the best war films yet. It’s tastefully done and visually unique. It’s the kind of positive overwhelming that reminds viewers why the cinema is still the best venue to watch films like Dunkirk. So, get yourselves to an IMAX screen and prepare to be impressed.
Dunkirk is now in cinemas.