Director Chris Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight, Interstellar), brings forward a Second World War thriller documenting the evacuation of Allied troops from the French city, Dunkirk, before Nazi forces take over.
Although billed as stars and co-stars, the characters portrayed by Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance all seem to take a spot in the back seat — together. No character in the film really outshines the other, and for the most part, unless you pay extremely close attention, the characters names aren’t mentioned more than once, or even at all; giving viewers a more realistic approach to what it may have felt like to be one of the Allied soldiers trapped on the beach. No more than just a number and statistic fighting for survival as they try and avoid Nazi forces. Actor Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, Red Eye, The Dark Knight Rises), has a major role in the film and even he is only credited as “Shivering Soldier”.
Directors of war or disaster movies in the past, like, Pearl Harbour (2001), and Titanic (1997), have made an effort to use big celebrity names to sell the story, or add love stories to a plotline that really didn’t need it. Nolan decided to use a few less-known faces in the acting world to really pull away from the ‘white savior narrative’ so prevalent in many of today’s western films.
Nolan has never been a director to shy away from explosions and fancy videography, and remains true to himself in Dunkirk, released in July 2017. The score, provided by Hans Zimmer, is somewhat unnoticeable — maybe a sign of a job well done. There are times in the movie where the viewer is given dead silence with only the occasional gunshot, bomb, or airplane heard in the distance. Which makes for an eerie and almost awkward viewing. Without the constant crescendos and dramatic music to tell the viewer how to feel and when to feel it, the mood and tone of the film is left entirely up to the viewer. Are you nervous for the French army? Is there an ambush waiting just around the corner? Will the unnamed and unseen Nazi pilot take down the French plane in this dogfight?
Nolan also wrote the film’s script and if his intention was to alienate the characters from the audience, he was very successful. The overall colour scheme of the film is cold with a lot of blues of greys. Characters get lost in huge crowds, or disappear in clouds of smoke and fog often and it’s not easy to get attached to any of the characters on screen. You almost always feel bad for them, hopeless even that they may never get off the beaches. With Nazi forces dominating the skies, waters, and land all around the Allied forces, even if you know the true story of which the film is based, you feel like they’ve lost everything.
For the most part, the film takes the viewers through three separate narratives. One, a fighter pilot trying to clear the air of German aircrafts that are trying to bomb the Allied rescue and medic ships, and destroyers. The second is the story of a civilian with teenage sons determined to sail to the beaches in their own small boat and rescue as many of the soldiers he can. And the last follows a trio of soldiers trying to get from the perimeter of Dunkirk to the docks, so they can get rescued — avoiding Germans the entire way.
Whether the story of Dunkirk is familiar to you or not, the plot, characters, awkwardness of the music and everything else it took a chance on makes for a very interesting and somehow entertaining yet sad experience.