Dunkirk is a tense and spectacular survival epic with edge-of-your-seat action, breathtaking visuals and phenomenal sound.
The film tells the story of the Dunkirk evacuation in three parts: From land, from sea and from air, intertwining to create a non-linear narrative (A normality in Nolan films) On land, Fionn Whitehead plays Tommy, a young British private who, just like everyone else, wants to go home. He arrives on the beach where British troops are lined up for the evacuation, except that there is no one there to take them home. Hundreds of thousands of men stand, hopelessly, on the beach where German bombers start to attack. In the sea we find Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) who begins to take his small boat to Dunkirk, occupied by his son Peter and their teenage hand George they pick up a shell-shocked soiled on their way that begs them to turn back, not wanting to go back to Dunkirk, they begin to see the horrors ahead. In the air we find three pilots, one of whom is played by Tom Hardy, on their way to Dunkirk they come across constant fire from the Germans, as they also attempt to help save the troops on the sea and land.
The film opens up on the streets of Dunkirk where a group of soldiers walk through floating leaflets, warning them that Germans surround them on all sides. We know that there is only one way for them to go, this starts up the tension for the film together with the ticking noise that is constantly building and building, we are rarely ever drawn away from tension. Hans Zimmer’s haunting music makes you hold you breath in anticipation however it is the sound design and editing in the film that makes it for me. You are thrown into the unknown along with these characters; you feel every explosion, every gunshot, every breath; the sound of the planes, the waves and even the silence make it a truly astounding and riveting experience. Although I was impressed with the score I felt at times that the film could have just had the sound design and not had the music mix in with it.
What Nolan does best in this film I feel is show the scale and depth of the event. When we see the beach and troops for the first time it is never ending, it stretches far beyond the frame, it seems the amount of troops are endless and as they stare at the horizon in search for help there is nothing there, just home itself. When the beach is attacked and bodies lie dead, the troops carry on as normal, they know there is nothing they can do, no where else to go, all they can do is wait, it does make for a harrowing sight. The cinematography is striking as well, especially the scenes in the air; Hoyte Van Hoytema captures the dogfight tremendously well between the spitfires and the Luftwaffe. The struggle of having to film with heavy IMAX cameras for nearly every sequence in the film really paid off.
The main criticism I hear about this film is that it offers no character backstory and limited character development and this takes away any emotional core. This is slightly true, this film isn’t very long and telling the story from 3 perspectives means you don’t have time to dive deep into every character we see. This is why I failed to connect with some of the characters; I just wasn’t able to care for them, although it left me shocked while watching I wasn’t emotionally hit. Nolan wanted the film to be as tense and suspenseful as possible meaning he didn’t want to drag the film out to be too long and for you to care about the characters because of the situation they are in. For the most part this works, the suspense is good and you understand the situation they are in but unfortunately it doesn’t work for every character.
Overall, Dunkirk is a good survival film, Nolan opts to tell his story visually with limited dialogue, offering up exceptional sound to immerse you in the fight and striking visuals to show the horror. While the film does lacks some emotional sense towards its characters it only offers as a small adverser.