Nolan delivers true war epic
DUNKIRK (M, 106 MINS), DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER NOLAN,
Dunkirk isn’t so much one film, as the cut-to-ribbons final acts of three quite separate narratives. There are the soldiers, trapped, perishing and terrified on the vast tidal flats of northern France, waiting for the next wave of Stuka dive-bombers and knowing that at any moment Hitler’s panzers could come thundering out of the smoke.
At sea is Mark Rylance, delivering one of the best performances you will see from anyone for a long time, as a mariner sailing with the ‘‘flotilla of little boats’’ that were pressed into action to ferry the trapped soldiers out to the waiting ships.
Above them is Tom Hardy’s dashing Spitfire pilot. In a rare moment that might even count as a conscious joke from director Christopher Nolan, Hardy’s mouth is covered, like Bane’s in The Dark Knight Rises, in a mask that makes it nearly impossible to understand a word he is saying.
I think I’ve seen every film Hardy has appeared in since Bronson. I’m not convinced I’ve ever understood a complete sentence of his dialogue in any of them. Dunkirk throws away the conventions of a war movie. There is no buildup, no plot at all really, very little explanation or context given as to how and why the 400,000 members of the British Expeditionary Force came to be trapped in this windswept shooting gallery.
Real life – as a few people have noted – doesn’t have three acts. Dunkirk simply drops us into the fray and tells us to work out what’s happening for ourselves.
And it does it with such a vast, all-embracing command of filmmaking technology and editing technique that, even when he is mucking us around with jumps that defy chronology, Nolan never allows us to drop out of his film’s emotional grasp. Even while he is being as exasperating and too-clever-by-half as only Nolan can be, we are still denied the power to even remember to breathe for long, long moments.
The events of Dunkirk demand an epic and a film-maker who can control one. Nolan apparently wrote the brief script – there is very little dialogue – decades ago. But decided to shelve it until he’d knocked off a few projects of the scale of his Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and Interstellar. If that story is true, it represents an act of intelligent humility of the sort that a real-life tragedy must be approached with.
There is no swagger to Nolan’s decision-making, no putting the film in front of the truth. It is simply a thunderous realisation – as close as any film could ever be – of what that hellish week must have been like to the men trapped within it.
Nolan again continues his proud tradition of eschewing computer-generated shots in favour of actual ships, planes and men. The result is a film that will look authentic, bloody, honest and real for as long as there are people to watch it. On an IMAX screen, Dunkirk is going to be simply phenomenal.
None of the cast are the lead, and there are no star roles. Just an ensemble of excellent workers giving it everything. The only name on the poster that might give you pause for concern is boyband singer Harry Styles, but he’s absolutely fine. A film of this stature doesn’t need an EdSheeran-around-the-campfire celebrity cameo. Styles got the job on merit.
Just like everyone else here. A cameo for Nolan regular Michael Caine is maybe the one moment of indulgence in the film. But I still enjoyed it. Hans Zimmer’s score and Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography are both superlative. Dunkirk is an audacious, intelligent and nearrevolutionary film. It will be watched and talked about for decades. Bravo. – Graeme Tuckett