Dunkirk, outnow, Cert 12 *****
THE Battle of Dunkirk was a large-scale evacuation of Allied soldiers from a French beach in 1940.
Hundreds of thousands of troops were forced to retreat to the beach and wait for rescue while facing the daily onslaught from enemy fire. Britain lost close to 70,000 men, a small figure when compared to French losses of almost 300,000.
The events of the evacuation have been the subject of many films, most of them focusing on the rescues at Dunkirk and celebrating the survival of the British against horrendous odds. Churchill’s rousing speech following the events of Dunkirk imbued the British spirit of survival and set a tone for the remainder of the war.
Visionary director Christopher Nolan has tackled this mammoth evacuation as the subject of his latest film.
In typical Nolan fashion, he has stepped away from the stereotypical presentations of Dunkirk and opted to show us the aftermath of the battle. Shell shocked and desperate men wait to be rescued from the beach, all the while being picked off by the enemy.
Thirsty, hungry and exhausted men wait in line to board boats. They finally take their place on destroyers only to drown minutes later when enemy aircraft bomb their vessels.
The story is told from several different perspectives, timelines shift adding to the feeling of disorientation these men must have felt.
We are thrown straight into action as a young soldier, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), fights for his life to reach the beach — he believes it will be his salvation but it is, in fact, the being of a new type of hell. His story will bring him into contact with Alex (Harry Styles — yes, the One Direction singer in his acting debut), and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard). Their fight for survival keeps them together and sees them fight through frantic scenarios.
Tom Hardy plays Farrier, an RAF Spitfire pilot who sets out with two other Spitfires to protect the men in the sea and the beach against the raging might of the German Messerschmitt Bf 109.
At sea, a civilian, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), takes his boat out to rescue soldiers under a directive from the War Office that small boats be requisitioned to the war effort. He is accompanied by his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and a local young lad George (Barry Keoghan). They are not long at sea when they come across a nearly frozen soldier played by Cillian Murphy. He is terribly shell shocked and his PTSD will have tragic consequences.Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), takes his boat out to rescue soldiers under a directive from the War Office that small boats be requisitioned to the war effort. He is accompanied by his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and a local young lad George (Barry Keoghan). They are not long at sea when they come across a nearly frozen soldier played by Cillian Murphy. He is terribly shell shocked and his PTSD will have tragic consequences.
Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) looks on from a jetty, outwardly composed and authoritative.
He watches men die, he ducks from bombs and he plans how he is going to get the surviving men home.
In time their stories come together, some for fleeting moments others with longer consequences.
With each scene comes brilliant performances — not just from our lead characters but from each nameless character and from each actor who did not utter a line. The grief, the shock, the fear is palpable from every actor to every extra.
It is not a surprise that Branagh and Rylance are brilliant as the older characters. It is not hard to believe that Hardy is fantastic — if a little hindered by his flight mask.
Murphy is superb as the PTSD struck soldier. We have come to expect great things from him.
The surprises come from the young cast. Our own Keoghan and Whitehead are excellent in their respective roles and it is great to see that young Mr. Styles is well able to hold his own in the acting field.Mr. Styles is well able to hold his own in the acting field.
Performances aside, it is the soundtrack and sound effects which have become stars. Hans Zimmer has created a stunning, heart stopping soundtrack that is as intense as it is striking. His final act music echoes that of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod — a defining piece of music that has come to be synonymous with World War II era Britain.
The sound effects, the deafening engines of aircraft and the repeated bursts of gunfire ricochet to your very core.
Nolan has created a haunting film that showcases the true horrors of war and does it all without bloodshed. By not being a gore-fest, as many war films are, he makes the fear and tension more intense.
Sometimes waiting is even more terrifying than fighting. It is here where the film is at its greatest, when all the adrenaline is gone, when all hope of surviving has been all but abandoned — when lone soldiers wait to die because death is better than waiting.
Haunting and gripping, Dunkirk will leave you struggling for breath, it will leave you shaken. It is a visceral masterpiece, a cinematic achievement unlike any other.