Released: 21st July 2017
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles
Reviewed By: Van Connor
His characters may have been in another galaxy when they declared that “time is a resource”, but it’s a journey back to World War II’s Operation: Dynamo that sees master director Christopher Nolan truly explore the meaning of chronology. Dunkirk is all about time, with Nolan pulling double-duty as director and – for a change, sole – writer to use the evacuation of 400,000 British troops from the French coast as a means to explore how we perceive, utilise, and become victim to each passing second.
Utilising three viewpoints of the evacuation – one on land, another at sea, the final by air – the Inception helmer assembles a now requisitely top-shelf crop of talent as he goes for something a little different than his usual flavour. Dunkirk sees him relying less on the cerebrally-insightful, you see, and more on a simplistic and wholly universal concept – chiefly the relation between survival and time. He’s not subtle about it either – hell, he’s got Hans Zimmer incorporating an outright ticking clock into its ever-dominant score – but the unflinching confidence that we’ve come to expect from Nolan this far into his – firmly proven – game ensures it never feels anything more than natural for the setting.
It’s top-tier craftsmanship that keeps him on top however, and – though Interstellar is largely regarded as a misstep – that infallible Nolan build-quality returns here in the form of editor Lee Smith, composer Zimmer, and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema – the latter now hopefully a Nolan mainstay following the move by Wally Pfister to directing pictures of his own. Van Hoytema’s a marvel in Dunkirk – offering up Oscar-calibre visuals his director more than knows how to play with. The pair make for a dynamite combo: the British auteur’s slick stylistic prowess serving in triumphant tandem with the Swiss DP’s jaw-dropping aesthetic. If there’s a dream team to have been found in Interstellar, that was it, and it’s taking the mother of all victory laps at Dunkirk.
Nolan’s nothing without a game cast though, something he never fails to put together. Yes, even the highly publicised Harry Styles proves a solid performer here, while relative unknown Fionn Whitehead is a grounded and compelling POV in what’s largely a silent performance for a largely dialogue-free feature. Kenneth Branagh deserves the greatest applause though, making more of a single line of dialogue in Nolan’s hands than a number of other actors can an entire film. Sir Ken’s a begrudging emotional backbone to Dunkirk, a riveting iron-jawed encapsulation of British might that never lets up, but – when that final reel rolls along – you’d best believe Branagh will have a lump forming in your throat that’ll see you right on through to the closing credits.
Fast and frenzied, yet surprisingly cool and collected, Dunkirk is a masterful work by a cinematic craftsman at the top of his game. The definitive war movie of this century, there’s not a duff note to be found in this battlefield symphony that’ll even vaguely convince you it’s anything other than a modern masterpiece. Throwing a “hold my beer” to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan whilst blowing raspberries at the militarised yawns of Michael Bay, Peter Berg, et al, Dunkirk is the real deal. An astonishing picture that fuses the heart of old school Ealing pictures with new school action dynamics and shows the results off in jaw-dropping fashion. See it now. See it on the biggest loudest screen you can possibly find. Then, when you’re done, you won’t even need to be told to see it again, you’ll be straight back in the line to visit Dunkirk.