<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes
A riveting escape drama more than a war film, Dunkirk takes you into the action to experience how it must have felt.
Dunkirk isn’t a war film in the mould of Saving Private Ryan so don’t expect that. The scenario is Dunkirk, France, with the retreating British forces stranded on the beach, waiting for salvation, as their French allies try and hold the line against the invading German marauders. The UK may be next but the soldiers need to get there in time. Their rescue ships are being sunk, so a call goes out to civilian boats to save the day. On the ground, a young soldier (Fionn Whitehead) and his friend battle furiously to save themselves. Some may call them cowards, but others may call them survivors.
In the air, a couple of RAF pilots, lead by Tom Hardy, tries to stop the enemy bombers from destroying their rescue ships. This is the set up. What follows is an intermingling of their stories done so deftly that it all merges into a cohesive whole.
Dunkirk isn’t an attempt at a history lesson. The short running time and experiential mood of the film doesn’t allow for elaboration. The guys next to me in the theatre even had to ask if the enemy was the Germans! They proceeded to refer to the movie synopsis in the interval. What are they teaching them in school nowadays? Oh right, social media is their new tool of learning.
So what Dunkirk does marvellously is take you into these situations of survival, heroism and terror. You’re in the cockpit with the pilot who has crashed into the sea as his compartment fills up with water and he tries to escape. You’re in the hull of the ship that’s been sunk as the rescued soldiers drown moments after sipping on tea and eating jam and bread.
Some may say the film is shot so beautifully it doesn’t look like a war movie. I think that juxtaposition of a lovely horizon with little fighter planes shooting at each other is wonderful. They almost seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things; war is such a futile game that humans play sometimes.
Dunkirk’s music is typically like it is in all of Christopher Nolan’s films: thundering, ear-shattering, heart pounding. It’s been ramped up so that you’ll find yourself covering your ears at points through the bomb drops and gun strafing.
It’s not a great movie but for what it sets out to achieve it accomplishes a great deal in taking the viewer into the thrilling and terrifying moments giving us a good sense of what it must’ve felt like for these stranded soldiers, scared, hungry and beaten down but still holding on to their wits.