“It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.” William T. Sherman
William T. Sherman was an American soldier and author during the 19th century, and though ‘Dunkirk’ is a thoroughly British war film, the words ‘War is Hell’ cemented themselves in my mind throughout my experience of Christopher Nolan’s new war film. For this is, a totally immersive experience, one shot on Imax cameras, and from the perspective of 3 different narratives all connected to one of the most horrendous moments in British history.
Throughout cinema history there have been countless war films depicting events in various cultures, however, this is first I have seen where there is a total absence of any attempt at glorification. There is no commanding speech’s in the final act that compels the men to push forward one last time in such a grandiose manner, nor is there a love story intertwined into the fabric of these characters. There is only survival, the honest brutality of war, and the lives that were affected.
From the moment the first shot is fired, a tension is created, one that grips you absolutely as Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) runs for his life through a deserted French town, before emerging onto a beach where hundreds of thousands of soldiers wait to be rescued. That tension, that tight grip, never once left me whilst I watched this film, a tension I don’t seem to recall at quite the same level of intensity when watching other war films. That tension can be accredited to a great many things that ‘Dunkirk’ correctly incorporates, such as breathtakingly powerful shots provided by the Imax cameras, the films suggestive and fabulous soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, or the imagery that still resides in my mind. However, I think the underlying reason why the tension is palpable is owing to the films ability to comfortably explore silence when necessary, yet retain such incredible tension. There are of course many moments of absolute chaos as bombers destroy ships, guns are fired from the perspective of the pilots, and the growing sound of the approaching enemy fire fills the eyes of Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) with horror; but there are also moments where not a word is spoken, yet you feel a commanding sense of understanding between the characters, thereby proving the film with great depth and emotion impact.
Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy are masters of this particular craft, Rylance, in particular, is probably best known for his Oscar winning role in ‘Bridge of Spies’, during which Tom Hanks noted how Rylance revelled in pushing those quieter moments for longer than expected. The same is very much true of his performance in Dunkirk and that brilliant technique seems to have been shared amongst all members of the cast, much to the benefit of the film. Hardy once again demonstrates his incredible ability to say little yet convey mountains of information purely through his eyes.
Nolan has once again demonstrated his skilled mastery of his craft, perfectly balancing the three core human narratives so that not one character shines above the others, yet still allows them all to be prominent in different ways. He impressively captures the chaos of an entire ship under attack, whilst also capturing the intense feeling of claustrophobia with equal measure. I also must thank Nolan for choosing to make this film as I don’t think many directors would have quite had the patience to make the choices he made when creating this important piece of film history. From the casting of Harry Styles who far exceeded my expectations to truly capturing the relentless and exhausting brutality of war. Dunkirk serves as a powerful reminder that we must never forget those who fought for us, who died for us, and to provide us with some perspective beyond certain aspects of our own troubled times that certainly seem so insignificant in comparison.
***** – A commanding cast of new and old faces, expertly commanded by Nolan to produce a stunning and powerful piece of cinematic history.
RECOMMENDATION – I cannot stress highly enough the need to see this in cinemas, truly not to be missed.