All in­tense and pur­pose­ful

The 'Dunkirk mir­a­cle' of World War II is recre­ated as a har­row­ing strug­gle to sur­vive — and it's a tri­umph of sto­ry­telling.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Movies - Re­view by DAVIN ARUL en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

Dunkirk Di­rec­tor: Christopher Nolan Cast: Fionn White­head, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Mark Ry­lance, Tom Hardy, Cil­lian Mur­phy, James D’Arcy, Ken­neth Branagh

BOMBS fall onto a packed pier, the ex­plo­sions march­ing steadily to­wards you as the deep bass of the det­o­na­tions ham­mer you back into your seat.

The whip-crack sounds of ri­fle fire threaten to rup­ture your eardrums while star­tling you as much as they do the hap­less sol­diers on screen flee­ing for their lives from an unseen en­emy.

Ma­chine-gun fire segues into a driv­ing sound­track that segues into the scream of Ger­man dive-bombers, the or­ches­tral be­com­ing so or­gan­i­cally wo­ven into the au­ral that you are hard pressed to tell the two apart. (That the score is by Hans Zim­mer, whose last few ef­forts have been mostly ex­cess and bom­bast, makes it all the more re­mark­able.)

This goes be­yond di­rec­tor/writer Christopher Nolan just su­per­vis­ing the sound edit­ing and scor­ing – it’s a film­maker thrust­ing his arms into the mix right up to his el­bows and knead­ing, teas­ing, mould­ing ev­ery­thing into the per­fect shape.

And that’s just the au­dio com­po­nent.

In Nolan’s World War II saga

Dunkirk, it helps to plunge the viewer into the har­row­ing sur­vival strug­gle of hun­dreds upon thou­sands of Al­lied troops as they wait help­lessly on a beach in France for res­cue.

Two decades ago, Steven Spiel­berg re­de­fined the war epic with Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan, em­ploy­ing sound dis­tor­tion and buck­ets of gore and guts to give an au­then­tic (and much-copied) feel of be­ing there on D-Day when the Al­lies (mostly Amer­i­can) in­vaded Nazi-oc­cu­pied Europe.

Now, Nolan logs an­other genre­defin­ing mo­ment in retelling the un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous Al­lied (mostly Bri­tish, the Yanks weren’t in the war yet) de­par­ture from Europe in 1940 with a marked de-em­pha­sis on con­flict and com­bat – ex­cept for some su­perbly edited, nail­bit­ing dog­fights – and he does so with a min­i­mum of blood.

It’s all about the hu­man drama, on a level so stag­ger­ing that you can feel it even when Nolan chooses to fo­cus on lit­tle pock­ets of the un­fold­ing or­deal.

Jug­gling three con­verg­ing time­lines, each on a dif­fer­ent scale – one takes place over the course of a week, an­other over a day, the last over just one hour – he master­fully brings them to­gether in such a vir­tu­oso man­ner that you want to stand up and ap­plaud him as much as the valiant civil­ians who sailed to the stranded sol­diers’ res­cue.

A Christopher Nolan film is al­ways chal­leng­ing in some way, whether it’s your moral com­pass

(The Dark Knight), your imag­i­na­tion (In­cep­tion)

or your pa­tience (The Dark Knight Rises, In­ter­stel­lar).

Here, it’s a pretty sim­ple chal­lenge: just keep up.

We don’t get much of an in­sight into the char­ac­ters, and in many cases we don’t even know why we should care about them. Yet care about (some of) them we do, whether it’s Cil­lian Mur­phy’s shell-shocked (read: PTSD-suf­fer­ing) sur­vivor, or Mark Ry­lance’s grimly de­ter­mined civil­ian sailor, or One Di­rec­tion-er Harry Styles’s largely generic sol­dier try­ing to make it off the beach along with other des­per­ate young men played by Fionn White­head and Aneurin Barnard.

Tom Hardy’s brave air­man and Ken­neth Branagh’s steady­ing pres­ence as a naval com­man­der in the thick of the evac­u­a­tion are per­haps the clos­est Nolan comes to war movie tropes, but even these fa­mil­iar types are ef­fec­tively utilised at just the right mo­ment.

The stakes at Dunkirk were high, but let your at­ten­tion slip even a mo­ment and you’ll miss the sub­tle ex­pla­na­tion in the di­a­logue. With

nearly 400,000 men com­mit­ted to France and Bel­gium to stop the Ger­man ad­vance, the Bri­tish needed to get them back – or be forced to ca­pit­u­late to Hitler.

And we see it in the re­lent­less way the Ger­mans bomb, tor­pedo and shoot the troops, even on med­i­cal frigates, sim­ply be­cause ev­ery dead or cap­tured sol­dier brings Eng­land’s sur­ren­der that lit­tle bit closer.

By keep­ing the Ger­man at­tack­ers and the French de­fend­ers out of the frame, and fo­cus­ing strictly on the pri­mal im­pulse to sur­vive, Nolan’s film cre­ates a noble and al­most heroic aura around an ig­no­min­ious de­feat.

We don’t think any less of the ex­hausted and bedrag­gled troops even when they make some ques­tion­able calls in the name of sur­vival, or in­ad­ver­tently cause harm to those try­ing to save them.

Dunkirk does not put us in a po­si­tion to judge but, through the im­mer­sive­ness of Nolan’s nar­ra­tive and tech­ni­cal achieve­ments, it puts us in a po­si­tion to un­der­stand.

— 20th Cen­tury Fox

The lads were a tad up­set that the fates took the term ‘left high and dry’ too lit­er­ally.

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