Dunkirk: Film Review

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Christoper Nolan’s high intensity war flick is one of his best films yet. 

Dunkirk is the latest film from critically acclaimed director of the Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, Christopher Nolan. The film centres around the “colossal military disaster” that occurred in 1940 during World War 2. When 400,000 allied soldiers were evacuated by civilian vessels after being stranded for over a week on the beaches of Dunkirk.

 From the opening scene to its last, Dunkirk pounds its audience with moments as thrilling as they are realistic. To say that this movie is intense would be an understatement. Nolan crafted his first war film through a combination of three factors that culminate to create a heart throbbing movie that is breath taking to behold.

 The first factor that makes this movie outstanding is its visual spectacle. Nolan is well versed in crafting shots that excel expectation. His 2014 Sci-Fi blockbuster Interstellar won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects as well as a BAFTA award for best Special Visual Effects.

 However, unlike Interstellar, the story of Dunkirk is based on real events, so Nolan utilised his $100 million budget to bring to the screen real World War II destroyers, real Messerschmitts and thousands of extras. All filmed on location in the North of France, on the very beach that the Allies were evacuated from 76 years ago.

 Finding World War II ships that still worked, as well as restoring and flying old fighter planes would have proved no easy task for Nolan and his team. But such a film demands authenticity, for any film depicting true events it is essential that it looks realistic. To no surprise, the hard work and resourcefulness of the production team, resulted in an outcome that absolutely pays off. Dunkirk feels 100% genuine, every shot looks real and every scene thrusts the audience into the moment.

The second factor that makes this film such a thrill ride is its soundtrack. Legendary film composer Hans Zimmer has worked with Nolan on many of his movies including The Dark Knight, Interstellar and Inception. The creative duo reunited once more to collaborate on some of Zimmer’s best scores yet for Dunkirk. Zimmer’s trademark intensity coupled with the diegetic sounds of a roaring Messerschmitt engine flying above, or the desperate bellows of soldiers clinging to life, create moments that will have you short of breath.

An integral theme of this soundtrack is the constant ticking, representing time. For Dunkirk isn’t so much a fight against the Germans, in fact they are barely seen throughout the whole film, Dunkirk is rather about a battle of survival against time. Stranded and surrounded on the beaches of Dunkirk the Allies had nowhere to escape the approaching German forces and imminent death. The ticking theme adds an element of intensity to an already tense film.

Another technique used to build suspension is an audio illusion called a Shepard tone. In a recent interview Nolan said “It’s an illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range”. Nolan wrote the story for Dunkirk following this rule of continual ascending intensity, and the effect is amazing. Which brings me to the third and final major contributing factor of this masterpiece. The story.

The story of Dunkirk is split up in to three separate points of view told in a non-linear time line. “The Mole” follows the troops stranded on the beach and their attempts at escape throughout a week. “The sea” depicts the journey civilian vessels made on the last day of the week, across the channel to rescue the trapped soldiers after William Churchill ordered operation Dynamo. And “The Air” shows the dog fights that ensued in the last hour of the last day as two RAF pilots attempt to protect the escaping allied forces.

Nolan cuts out a lot of dialogue and character development that would usually be present in war films, to focus 100% of its two-hour run time solely on the event. The choice to do so distances the characters from the audience and thus the emotional impact of seeing some die is not as effective as it could have been. However, this is not to say that the actors don’t do an amazing job, they do. Cinema veterans Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy are perfectly cast as a naval commander (Branagh) and a spitfire pilot (Hardy) Cillian Murphy is memorable as a traumatized army deserter and new comers Harry Styles and Fionn Whitehead do well in portraying the physical and mental battle of escaping the beach.

The story of Dunkirk is not about any one solider but the event. The opening scene shotguns you into the action as Tommy (Whitehead) runs from the enemy through the streets of France, right on to the beach, which is almost immediately attacked by an aerial bombing.

The emotional impact of some of Dunkirk’s scenes is quite strong, it isn’t noticeably graphic like its relatives of the genre. But it doesn’t have to be. Witnessing the struggle of survival as the soldiers struggle for air in a sinking ship can be distressing at times. Moral dilemmas come into play as a group of soldiers discover a Frenchman in their ranks. Planes are shot down and innocent lives are lost. All culminating in the emotional toll that the event had on these characters. Which serves as a solemn reminder that this actually happened.

Dunkirk has raked in over $18,000,000 at the Australian box office. It’s one of the biggest and best movies of the year in my opinion and definantly worth a watch.

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