Dunkirk

1hr 46mins | Rated M | Violence & offensive language

Starring: Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Harry Styles, Christopher Nolan

MHeartfelt and moving, Dunkirk may be teeth-clenching stuff, but it’s also the Christopher Nolan’s most unapologetically emotional and accessible film to date… and it could be the movie to finally get him into the Oscar-winners’ circle.
Rather than take an impersonal God’s-eye overview of the events of May 1940, when 400,000 troops were pushed back by German forces to the beaches of Dunkirk to face death and defeat if they weren’t rescued, Nolan dissects his film into three separate narrative tracts. The respective strands cover land, sea and air – an approach that immerses you in the boots-on-the-ground reality for the blood-and-guts men (civilian and military) battling to change history.
After opening with a young soldier – with the aptronym Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) – escaping gunfire through the streets of Dunkirk only to arrive at the crowded, desperate beaches, those narratives unfurl in different times: the story of troops on the shore begins a week before the climax; the journey of Dorset sailor Mr. Dawson’s (Mark Rylance) sea-based rescue mission starts a day ahead; and the tale of two fighter pilots, Farrier and Collins (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden), kicks off an hour before in the skies over the Channel.
As the stories weave in and out of each other, we see key life-threatening incidents (a downed Spitfire, a torpedoed ship, a sinking fishing boat) from different perspectives, with each replay informed by increasing investment in characters and a 360-degree understanding of the logistics at play.
The cumulative effect is both thrilling and devastating. Playing as briskly and tensely as any escape thriller with mouth-agape-impressive in-camera effects, the movie constantly asks audiences to consider what they would do in a series of relentless, deadly situations while highlighting the acts of bravery, honour and kindness that exemplify the famous Dunkirk Spirit.
A true ensemble piece, Dunkirk’s cast may have little dialogue, and limited individual screen time, but all are (pardon the pun) uniformly excellent – yes, cynics, even that One Direction bloke. While the young guns provide the derdoing, the more seasoned cast bring the gravitas and feels. Special mention must go to Rylance’s delightful, nuanced patriot, Hardy’s dexterity in portraying emotions from behind an oxygen mask in the confines of a cockpit and Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean naval commander.
But they, of course, are not the stars of the show. What really makes Dunkirk so immediate, so visceral, are the period-correct vintage planes and boats fitted with innovative cameras to create literally breath-holding moments underwater, in the sky and on the sea.
Total Film
5 STARS