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Review: Dunkirk – “An intimate and immersive epic”

Dunkirk is written and directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar) and stars: Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Jack Lowden, Barry Keoghan, and One Direction’s Harry Styles.

400,000 British soldiers are stuck on the beaches of Dunkirk with the Axis forces closing in on them. As they wait to be transported home they are surrounded on all sides and buzzed and picked off by the German air force, and even if they manage to squeeze onto a ship they face being bombed from above or torpedoed from below. To attempt to rescue the British army, the navy back home has commandeered any available small commercial boats – and these ships that are owned by the public are sailing the channel as quickly as possible.

Nolan splits his story into three separate strands – in the air, on land, and at sea – that criss-cross, entwine and branch out; sometimes playing with time and often encountering strange or dangerous new obstacles and enemies. Three young and unlucky soldiers: Tommy (Whitehead), Gibson (Barnard) and Alex (Styles), try and flee the beaches by and means necessary – as an Admiral (Branagh) decides who will stay and who will leave on what little transport is available and still intact.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dawson (Rylance), his son (Lowden) and a heroic stowaway (Keoghan) set sail for Dunkirk on a small ship, collecting a shivering U-boat attack survivor (Murphy) who is so overwhelmed that he may now be dangerous to his rescuers. The final plot line centres on a dashing and daring Spitfire pilot – Tom Hardy – whose performance still penetrates even when he is acting from behind a pair of goggles and a layer of cockpit plexiglass.

The war and the film are a terrifying and sometimes odd hell where big and small sacrifices are treated the same, and the sea is well dangerous – portrayed as a sinking and drowning nightmare – just as lethal as the encroaching enemy. Watching Dunkirk in large-format 70mm IMAX is a visceral, unmatchable spectacle. It is so periphery all-encompassing that it becomes your whole world, and as the horizon spins during beautifully shot and choreographed aerial dogfights your jaw will loosen and your eyes will boggle.

Equally technically and emotionally impressive is Dunkirk’s sound. The film is light in dialogue throughout – with the action and emotion telling you more than any clumsy info dump could – and the sound effects, from the terrifyingly loud gunfire to the roar of the propellers will have you ducking jumping and wincing for 100 minutes.

Hans Zimmer also wades in with a score full of ticking and pounding that builds for over an hour until it feels like it is reverberating in your ribs. Zimmer also inflicts some deep dark troubling chord sustains that seem to last forty-five minutes, and will leave you anxious and paralysed with suspense on the edge of your seat, and gripping the arm rests so hard that they may need to be replaced after every showing.

Dunkirk is an intimate and immersive epic, and a shell-shocking masterpiece in inescapable ever-escalating tension. Christopher Nolan is currently peerless; and the young cast is excellent and exciting, while the seasoned Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and Cillian Murphy are all fantastic.

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One Comment

  1. Great movie! Very good review. It is worth going to RAF Museum in north London. There is Tom’s actual movie costume on display.

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