Dunkirk was hyped quite a bit and the trailers did make it out to look awesome. However, it could have easily just ended up being another overhyped big-budget film that was more “style over substance”. But I must confess that I was blown away by how amazing it was! I remember the first time I saw Inception, I came out of the cinema thinking “I HAVE to tell people about this film” - and that is exactly the same reaction I had when seeing this film. Nolan, you are without a doubt, a genius!
Depending on how you look at it, the Battle of Dunkirk was either one of the most catastrophic defeats, or heroic victories for the Allies in WW2. The Allies had been pushed back by the enemy and they were basically cut off. Dunkirk became a battle of attrition to save what soldiers they could – but the Germans were not going to let them go that easily. This film is shown from three different POV's, each following a different timeline. They follow the soldiers at Dunkirk (in the space of a week), one of many civilian boats sent out to rescue the soldiers (in the space of a day) and three fighter pilots flying in to give air support (in the space of an hour). Similar to Memento, they don't follow a linear path, but rather they cross over with each other at various points, so that you get different parts of the story at different times – and yet it still feels coherent and you can understand what is going on.
I must confess that I don't remember all of the characters names, but they had some amazing actors that all did superb jobs. With a great cast that included, amongst others, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy and James D'Arcy (and they're just the ones I can remember) you had solid performances all around. Even if they are just a background character, you instantly feel their plight and you hope that they will escape. One casting choice that raised a few eyebrows was Harry Styles from One Direction. But, I have to say – and I NEVER thought I would say this – Harry Styles, is a brilliant actor! At least in this film. In fact, there isn't one weak performance that I can think of. Everyone, be they main cast or extra, did a stella job.
Dunkirk is one of the most harrowing films I've seen in a while. The camera cuts back and forth between scenes, capturing the chaos of war. The sound effects are loud as hell, adding to the terror. And the music – oh my god the music! Normally I complain when music is used too much, but here it really adds to the tension. Hans Zimmer's score never lets up for a a second, gradually building until your heart can't take it any more And even when you think there's peace, it's only for the briefest of moments. All these add up to one of the most emotionally draining experiences I had ever witnessed – and I was still shaking for hours afterwards. Funnily enough, I was at the front row of the cinema and I felt that I was right up close with the soldiers, feeling their terror and torment, hearing their screams and cries. It made my heart ache.
There's one thing Dunkirk captures very well and that's the pure terror of war. The soldiers in here aren't fighting for glory, or to gain ground, or even to just push the enemies back. Here they are fighting just to survive. Few films I have seen have captured the raw determination and will to live, especially in war films. There is no glory in this battle, it's just young men doing what they can to escape. Every single second, there are fears of a bomb or air plane coming to strike – and they seemingly have little to no support. Even when one soldier does manage to escape and is picked up by one of the civilian crafts, he is so shell-shocked that he can't even say his own name. Forget about the whole “fight for your country” speech that people were talked into, these soldiers just want to live another day. But that in no way makes them cowards. It's a human reaction to live through horror and that is what makes Dunkirk so heart stopping in places. Even when they do escape and return to England, there is no victory for them. I think Harry Style's character summed up the ending perfectly with his quote “All we did was survive.” Now for some, that is a victory – but for these soldiers, they will be forever struck by guilt because others didn't make it. And worst still, the War is far from over – and though they lived through this, who is to say they will have the same luck later on? It drives home the point that there are no real winners in war – even the victors will come out scathed.
Historical accuracy aside (and there have been a few complaints that French were virtually excluded from this film, when they had just as big a part in the battle as the English), Dunkirk contains all the best things from Christopher Nolan and makes, for me, a perfect film. Terrifying, emotional, profound and captivating with beautifully chaotic cinematography and excellent performances, Dunkirk is quite honestly one of the best films I have ever seen. I know we still have about 5 months of the year left, but I would quite honestly call Dunkirk the film of the year by a country mile. If you haven't seen it at the cinema, go do so – you'll rarely get another experience like it.
Dunkirk gets from me a hugely deserved 5 out of 5. Though if I could, I would give it 6!