Most history buffs and movie fans have been waiting for the release of Dunkirk for a while. I, of course, was one of those people. With a name like “Christopher Nolan” attached to it, the film comes with extremely high expectations. I was not disappointed.
As I mentioned above, Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this summer blockbuster that opened on July 21 in the U.S.A. Although Nolan has a long list of film accomplishments, Dunkirk is his first war picture. Despite the huge cast, the film does not have a list of recognizable stars besides Mark Rylance, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy. Nolan used mostly young and unknown actors to highlight that fact that the soldiers at Dunkirk were young and inexperienced as well.
Although most people are familiar with the story of Dunkirk, it does help to have some background knowledge before seeing the film. During World War II, approximately 400,000 British and French soldiers were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk after having been forced to retreat from the advancing German army. They were stuck with little food and water; survival looked bleak. Fortunately, the German advance was stopped for 48 hours, giving the Allied troops time to evacuate off the island and head to England. Hundreds of civilian boats and some military boats came to the rescue. War and humanity are not often synonymous, but this feat displayed otherwise.
The cinematography of Dunkirk is stunning. Nolan teamed up with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema for the second time, the first being for the critically acclaimed Interstellar. There are many breathtaking shots involving the water and boats, but the shots of the planes flying throughout the sky caught my attention. The color palette perfectly fit the theme of the grit of war, but it also brought moments of warmth. Sky blue, dark blue, and orange were the dominant colors, and this was done on purpose to incorporate the idea of the air, the sea, and the land. Every color worked together to create a visually appealing product that added to an already compelling story.
Although Dunkirk has received extremely high praise from critics and audiences, there have been some complaints. The biggest criticisms seem to be that there is a lack of depth in the characters, providing no reason to be emotionally invested in them. While, compared to other successful films, this may be true, I do not believe that is what Nolan wanted to accomplish. Instead, he focuses on the battle as a whole. His script concentrates on the heroic act of a whole country, not just one person. If he were to narrow in on one or two characters, then the audience may have disregarded the other hundreds of thousands of men on the beach. Nolan was able to present a narrative that allows the audience to care for every single character. He is telling the story of Dunkirk, not the story of one particular brave soldier. There would not be much to develop anyways, because the only thing the men wanted was survival. To make something more out of that would be unrealistic.
I cannot write a review of this film without talking about Hans Zimmer’s music score. Nolan has used Zimmer for five of his other films, so this collaboration was no surprise. The combination of ominous instrumentals and a ticking clock increased the pulse of the Dunkirk. Zimmer actually used Nolan’s pocket watch to create the ticking noise on the score. I loved this aspect because it was a reoccurring theme and reminder that the time for evacuation from Dunkirk was limited. The score was not overpowering, but instead effectively complimented the pace and purpose of the film.
Dunkirk forces the audience to look beyond the characters and into the thematic elements of a major historical event. This was not a typical heroic war story. In fact, it was a serious blunder. But courage and perseverance shine through as the film presents a crucial moral victory. Nolan captures the importance of patriotism and how selfless civilians put their lives on the line to try and rescue the stranded soldiers. Disaster turned triumph and the Dunkirk incident ended up being a turning point in World War II. Dunkirk is authentic and a truly great historical film. I recommend!
Rated PG-13 for intense war sequences and some language.
Image Credit: IndieWire