Christopher Nolan in a recent article said that he wanted to offer a fully immersive film, as if the audience were to put on a VR headset and be placed slat-bang in the epicentre of the Dunkirk evacuation. That in a nutshell is exactly what it is like to watch Dunkirk. While many big budget productions have the audience as simply an observer to the events, Dunkirk gives to us a feeling of being there, feeling the sea breeze and the intensity of war. A feeling that most war films can only strive towards.
Dunkirk is not your average summer blockbuster, you really should have an open mind to what a film is when seeing Dunkirk, but if you’ve seen enough Christopher Nolan films, you’ll have already come accustom to this type of cinematic experience. The reason I say this is because the narrative structure of Dunkirk follows its own rules. The best way I can describe it is that it takes land, air and sea warfare, places characters in each and tells you their individual story before converging into one another for the film’s final epic scene. You also notice that the characters have little impact on changing the events, only at scattered points throughout the film. This is however justifiable because it becomes quick to realise that the location Dunkirk itself is the story. the film was never about the characters, it was about the historical importance of Dunkirk to world war two and how this very British story is a story that lead to spirit and pride.
Where I applaud Christopher Nolan taking an alternative route to approaching film narrative, I give a standing ovation to the films score and sound design. Hans Zimmer is amongst the greatest film composers currently working, that really all I need to say, but since this is a review I ‘ll say that his score creates a tension that dangles by a finger on the wire during penultimate scenes. The sound design is miraculous and carefully planned, you can tell because throughout the entire film there is the sound of a ticking clock that not only creates tension but also drives the pacing of Dunkirk. The sounds that the spitfire’s make are unlike anything I’ve heard before, the almost screaming noise as they fly past is very real and can be both relieving and frightening, depending on what the narrative allows.
There is no singular performance that stands out as spectacular, everyone involved is very much on par with one another because the film wants to capture reactions rather than dialogue. There is very little spoken in Dunkirk which gives time for the actors to show their immersion through facial expression. I felt that the most engaging performance in what can be called conventional acting was Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson being as he had the most to say alongside Kenneth Branagh. However, Tom Hardy is exceptional at showing emotions with just his eyes as his face is covered up by a pilot’s helmet most of the time.
The scale of practicality in Dunkirk matches that of the scale of the rescue with it being technically alluring. the film is a masterclass of showcasing practicality at its finest and the efforts made to create the illusion of having more troops without the use of computer imagery pays off.
You get taught at film school that it all begins with the script and that if the characters are well established and well-rounded, it will make the story even more interesting. Dunkirk basically tosses that rule aside because it manages to create characters to root for without giving the audience any sort of context as to who they are as a person of how they ended up on the beaches of Dunkirk. I can see this being a problem for those who are less willing to accept cinematic experimentation and are more naturally drawn to knowing everything about what they’re seeing on the screen
The only distracting element of Dunkirk is the changes between the colour correction of a scene. The colour often shift from a darker setting to a sea blue to natural, it ever so slightly draws you away from the experience as you refresh your mind as to where the film is. it may be compensated because the cinematography in Dunkirk are mesmerizing, but it remains a consistency problem. Also there is a scene in which a spitfire crashes into the sea and there is a tiny blip in the sound where it cuts just for a second, although this could have also been a technical error with the cinemas surround sound.
Christopher Nolan career as a director has gotten everyone anticipated for his next film and when it arrives it feels like Christmas Day. Dunkirk just proves his respect for practical filmmaking and finding new, innovative ways of storytelling. This film fills you with tension and feelings of anxiety until the very end where the release is a feeling of the Dunkirk spirit.