Think of the last war movie you saw. Now imagine the film’s most intense battle scene. It probably went for a maximum of 20 minutes or so. Now imagine a 120-minute-long battle scene, masterfully scored by Han Zimmer and directed by the one and only Christopher Nolan.
It’s 1940, and 400,000 British troops are stranded on France’s Dunkirk beach. Across the channel, their home, England, is so close yet so far away. The German air force dominates the skies, and the water is teeming with U-Boats. The Royal Navy has already lost 30 big ships, and things are getting desperate.
Nolan, known for such masterpieces as The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar, has never before made a film based on real events. However, considering the ambitious and intense nature of his filmography, it’s no surprise that he was drawn to the infamous WWII retreat.
The narrative is split into three parts, and the film constantly cuts between them. There’s Tom Hardy, taking out enemy planes in the air, and Mark Rylance, performing a civilian rescue mission via boat. Meanwhile at the beach (or “the Mole” as it is nicknamed), Fionn Whitehead and, yes, Harry Styles, try to keep all their limbs attached to their body.
The differing timelines make this straight-forward narrative quite confusing, though. While the beach plot line takes a whole week, the boat journey only lasts the day, and Tom Hardy’s flight a mere hour. These timelines come together in the film’s final minutes, but make the first hour a bit hard to keep track of.
Han Zimmer, the legendary composer Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lion King, and every other Nolan film, brings his A-game to Dunkirk. The score plays a crucial role in establishing the film’s tense atmosphere (just try and listen to Supermarine without feeling anxious). Time, and the idea of “running out of time”, is a key theme in this film, as shown through the fast-paced score which mimics the ticking of a clock.
The acting is excellent across the board. Cillian Murphy is devastating as a shell-shocked soldier; Oscar-winner Mark Rylance is his brilliant, understated self. Harry Styles isn’t as bad as the haters hoped, and Tom Hardy is emoting his ass off, despite having his gorgeous face covered again.
Dunkirk is a white-knuckled ride from start to finish. There are so many characters here, yet Nolan makes you worried about every single one of them. It’s intense, harrowing, and you can’t look away. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest cinema immediately – time is running out.
PS- Dunkirk was shot on 70MM cameras and luckily for UNSW students, and you can see it on film, as Nolan intended, at the local Ritz Cinema.
This review was originally posted on Blitz UNSW