I saw Dunkirk in IMAX on saturday, and after collecting my thoughts, I’m ready to share them with whoever actually reads my ramblings. I earlier stated that I hoped that this film would be a return to form for Christopher Nolan, since I didn’t like Intersetellar that much. I definitely can’t say Interstellar is a bad film, I just didn’t like it as much as his previous works. After seeing Dunkirk, Inception remains my favourite Christopher Nolan film. The Prestige and The Dark Knight might also edge out Dunkirk but it is nevertheless an engaging and brilliantly executed film.
Dunkirk is Nolan’s dramatization of the Dunkirk evacuation, where Allied Forces were trapped in northern France. Military and civilian boats were then enlisted or requisitioned to evacuate the Allied Forces to England. Dunkirk focuses on three different narratives: land, sea and air. Fionn Whitehead stars as Tommy, an army private. Tom Hardy stars as Farrier, a British pilot and Mark Rylance stars as Mr. Dawson, a civilian heading to Dunkirk. The movie cuts between the three different stories, and the stories intersect more as the film progresses. None of the characters are directly based on historical figures, but some are meant to be composites.
I hate to focus on a film’s visuals, but it must be said that Dunkirk is a beautiful film. I saw the film in IMAX on 70mm, so that probably gave an enhanced experience. Aside from the film’s clarity, it must also be praised for its cinematography and minimal use of CGI. Everything from the planes, ships, explosions etc. are all practical, or at least look like they are all practical effects. There is nothing wrong with CGI in itself, but a film like this benefits from minimal use since you want to be immersed in the history that is being depicted. Nolan succeeds in building and maintaining tension, making you as anxious as the characters as they try to survive one attack after another. Perhaps IMAX made me notice more as well, but I also have to add that the sound effects and sound mixing were masterfully done, recreating everything from the infamous sirens of the German stuka planes to the explosions that are replete throughout the film.
One criticism that has popped up when discussing the film online or with friends, is that the characters were not well-developed. Mark Rylance’s character probably gets the most back story and dialogue, but Whitehead and Hardy both have relatively sparse offerings. However, I didn’t realize this until other people pointed it out. Dunkirk was able to make me invested in characters that were not that fleshed out. The story was enough to keep me interested, and I saw each character as representative of millions of other soldiers’s fear and hopes during Dunkirk. Dunkirk is Whitehead’s debut role, and he does well with his limited time. I was pleasantly surprised by Harry Styles, who arguably steals the spotlight from Whitehead during some scenes. Christopher Nolan says he wasn’t aware of Styles’s fame before casting him and I am willing to say that all of my worries about Styles’s involvement proved to be unwarranted. Fortunately, I also didn’t have to deal with any screaming One Direction fans in the theatre. Kenneth Branagh is somewhat infamous for chewing scenery at times, but he is a stand out here in a more understated performance as Navy Commander Bolton. Cillian Murphy also deserves honourable mentioned as a shellshocked soldier eager to get back home. There are several other characters introduced throughout and they all form a necessary part of the film’s fabric.
A less capable director could have made Dunkirk dull and repetitive. When you really think about it, the film just depicts one attack after another, with relatively little dialogue between. However, Nolan is able to craft a story of survival that is visceral, entertaining and memorable.