Told from the perspective of land, air and sea in June 1940, 400,000 British and French troops are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. With the enemy closing in and attacking from the air, the clock is ticking to evacuate the men and bring them home.

It’s eight months into World War II and the Nazis have occupied mainland Europe. With the enemy attacking U-boats and bombing from the air,  British morale is at its lowest as 400,000 servicemen sit stranded on the shores of Northern France. As 39 nautical miles of sea separate the soldiers from safety, civilian boats rally together to bring the men home.

Writer, producer and director Christopher Nolan returns to prove yet again that less is more. Using minimal dialogue and a primary narrative, Dunkirk follows the true events of one of the most poignant military disasters in British history – but with a universal message. Focussing less on one character in particular, Dunkirk instead focusses on the men as a collective. Despite a cast of incredible actors (Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh), many of the characters remain entirely nameless. Ultimately, it is not a story about victory, it is a story of humanity. Nolan’s purposeful lack of dialogue works to mimic that of silent cinema and First World War films, perhaps to go as far as All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone, 1930). Instead, he lets the provoking actions depicted on screen and suspenseful music to evoke emotion.

Furthermore, it uses no scenes of bloodied violence whatsoever – proving that you can build a suspenseful war narrative without the use of gore. This does, however, take nothing away from the horrors of war – with PTSD being a consistent theme. In one scene Mr. Dawson (Rylance) says “The war has changed him, George, he may never be the same again”.

Divided in to 1 week, 1 day and 1 hour, this is representative of Nolan’s passion for time; much like we’ve seen in Inception (2010) and Memento (2000) previously. Whilst the story of Dunkirk is by no means as complex as some of his previous work (Interstellar, 2014 in particular), there is very much a feeling of assumed knowledge demanded from the audience. Unlike modern day Hollywood titles in which the story are often plainly explained (or dumbed down), Nolan gives his audience the benefit of the doubt – and it works. Arguably there to fill us in on the progress of the evacuation is naval officer Commander Bolton (Branagh) who surveys from the pier and keeps us updated. However, Nolan doesn’t try to bombard us with too much information. Instead, he knows that the bleak, simple image of wounded men and desperation is enough to sell the story.

To reinforce the suspense, the music of Hans Zimmer sits at the forefront throughout. His ever-present score and staccato constantly builds; mirroring the screams and booms of the Luftwaffe and their bombs. The tick of a stopwatch is at times so nerve-wracking that it in itself feels like an attack. At no point does it allow you to take a breath – leaving an arresting pit in your stomach. Most of all, it has a mournful quality to it – it is sombre and serious in a film about a bitter sweet victory.

Whilst Dunkirk may not be Nolan’s best film to date, it is easily one of his most triumphant and stunning. Shot in part 70mm and IMAX cameras, the cinematography is truly outstanding. As spectators we can see every fine detail which, combined with the sound, makes it a fully immersive experience. However, whilst the film is very much a cinematic spectacle, at no point does it feel forced or for the sake of it. Instead, some of the most key moments are that of minor details; the glimpses of the expression on men’s faces and shots of the vast landscape.
Arguably one of the most intense films ever made and perhaps one of the all time best of its genre, Nolan’s Dunkirk is a remarkable and stunning lesson in history and the human condition. It is a story of hope and solidarity that will captivate your mind, body and soul.
Movie Review: Dunkirk
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About The Author

Sophie Elizabeth

Sophie is a film blogger from South London with a degree in Film Theory and Major Production. Sophie currently works in digital marketing but in her spare time you'll find her writing reviews or at the cinema. Sophie loves all things Star Wars and Hollywood but having specialized in the Horror genre, monsters are her first love. She'll watch absolutely anything given the chance - you can find her also on her blog, http://www.popcornandglitter.co.uk Twitter: https://twitter.com/sophieathawes