Christopher Nolan has made some great movies. His most recent 2 movies, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘Interstellar’, have been slightly less than great. Great, but not really great like some of his others. But now he’s back with ‘Dunkirk’ and it really is a return to form. Seriously, this film is phenomenal!
The year is 1940 and the Second World War is raging. Nazi Germany has invaded France, leading to hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers to retreat to the beach of Dunkirk. Trapped, the men must try to survive and find any way of evacuating or face capture or death at the hands of the enemy. The story wastes no time in getting to the point. There’s about 4 sentences of text, a quiet minute in the streets of Dunkirk and then we’re on the beaches and away. There’s three interweaving plots: the mole, the sea and the air. The beach scenes take place over the course of one week, the sea one day and the air one hour. It can seem a little weird at first until you get to grips with what is happening, but when you realise it works really really well.
The cast are all fantastic and there isn’t one bad performance. Fionn Whitehead plays one of the soldiers stuck on the beach and looking for a way off. He is accompanied by Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles (yes, of One Direction no less!). The three of them don’t talk very much at all. What is there to say when you’re cold and wet and every ship you get on to escape sinks? So that means they do a lot of panicked face acting, and it all works really well. Who knew Harry Styles could act?! The three of them may look a tad too similar making some moments of action confusing, but the three of them do a very great job of ferrying us through the beach evacuation. They are also accompanied by Kenneth Branagh’s Commander on the pier who once again shows off his amazing dramatic acting talent.
Guiding us through the sea section of the story is Mark Rylance as the civilian sailor setting off with his son, Tom Glynn-Carney, and his little helper Barry Keoghan. The three of them face a dangerous and perilous journey to Dunkirk and along the way encounter a sunken vessel with only one survivor: the shell shocked Cillian Murphy. There’s a lot of drama that happens on the boat and Rylance leads the crew with some really fantastic acting. You fell his emotion in every word he says. He’s scared, but knows he is doing the right thing. Cillian Murphy manages to play an extremely frightened guy really well too. I’ve never met anyone who is shell shocked, but I imagine he pretty much nails that feeling.
And in the air we have a cheeky little cameo from Michael Caine, Jack Lowden and a scene stealing Tom Hardy as pilots who engage in some pretty tense combat with some German bombers and planes. Much has been made about Christopher Nolan loving to cast Tom Hardy in a part where you can’t see most of his face. Bane being the prime example. But here you literally can only ever see his eyes and briefly his mouth. And he’s amazing! He might be one of the best actors in the film. None of the stories are better than another, but the dogfights stand out as being really tense and really exciting.
Most of that is likely down to the use of models and practical effects, something which Nolan is big on. And throughout the whole film, everything looked amazing. I never once questioned whether anything was real or not. It all looks so real and the camera puts you right there in the middle of it. You are part of this film and Nolan wants you to know how horrific war really is. I mean, you should know that already really, but still. Nolan becomes more and more like Stanley Kubrick with every film. Always changing genres but always keeping that air of mystery in the plot and the story structure. The camera movements are even becoming more alike, with long tracking shots and extreme close ups that reveal every details of a performance. Here, Nolan once again proves why he is one of the best working directors today.
The script is tight, the action is tense, the performances emotional and the whole film is real. Everything just works so well and it might just add up to one of the best war films ever made. Maybe even one of Nolan’s best films. Honestly, it’s incredible.
JACK’S SCORE: 5/5