War On A Different Scale
♦Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk, is out today in cinemas and Tripwire’s editor-in-chief JOEL MEADOWS got the chance to see it this week…
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, James D’Arcy, Harry Styles
Dunkirk is one of the most famous events in World War II: hundreds of thousands of British soldiers are trapped in France and it takes a flotilla of hundreds of civilian boats to bring them home. So if any modern filmmaker could tell the story of Dunkirk on the big screen, it would be Christopher Nolan.
He has only made nine films in a career that began in the late nineties but it is a career that is arguably more diverse than any other modern director. He has never been afraid of switching genres or tackling something that he hasn’t done before.
Dunkirk opens with Tommy (Whitehead) walking through the streets of the French town, assailed by leaflets from the Germans falling from the skies, suggesting that they are outnumbered and that they should give themselves up. Nolan wastes no time throwing the viewer into the action as instantly German gunfire appears, loud and unforgiving.
This film is split into three parts, with one following Tommy, another telling the story of Mr Dawson (Rylance), who captains one of the small boats sent out to rescue the British soldiers and a third shows us three RAF pilots led by Farrier (Hardy) who are sent to act as an aerial guard to watch over the British navy as they set about trying to arrange the rescue of hundreds of thousands of soldiers off the beach and back to blighty.
Nolan’s work has always been about ambition and Dunkirk is Nolan’s most ambitious film to date. There is a simple elegance to every shot on screen and a beauty to every scene that only Nolan could really carry off. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema assisted by Nolan’s regular visual collaborator Nathan Crowley really immerses the viewer into this world seemingly devoid of hope and optimism but as it progresses, you are fed little slivers of positive thought. The dogfights are recreated brilliantly throwing you into them with a balletic quality I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.
It has been criticised for lacking human connection and merely being a mechanical tale of what occurred at Dunkirk but the enormity of the event and the amount of people involved makes it very hard for a director to pick a single subject. To Nolan’s credit, cherry picking people like Tommy, the RAF pilots and Dawson plus cameos from the likes of Branagh as British navy commander Bolton and Nolan regular Cillian Murphy as the unnamed shellshocked soldier do help to humanise the story.
So it does connect with audiences on a personal level. You smile when the boats enter the harbour and you cheer when Farrier and his fellow pilots bring down a German plane. Dunkirk manages to tread that fine line between celebrating British character and coming across as being too jingoistic, which is a trap it never falls into at any point.
Watching it on IMAX, you are swept away by its visual majesty and you can definitely draw a through line from David Lean to Christopher Nolan. It feels like a very British film. My only minor quibble is that Nolan does choose to tell a non-linear story which does sometimes mean that the viewer has to keep up with what is going on. But this is a pretty minor quibble.
Dunkirk feels like a proper cinematic experience and in a summer where we are usually just greeted by heroes in brightly coloured costumes, it is refreshing to have a film that deals with people of a different sort. Dunkirk is the film that Nolan has always threatened to make but at last he has succeeded.
Dunkirk is out in cinemas now