Whether it’s mastering the superhero film with The Dark Knight trilogy or constructing an intricate sci-fi concept into a million dollar success with Inception, no genre is seemingly off limits or unprofitable for ambitious director Christopher Nolan. This time around we’re treated to a history lesson with World War II thriller Dunkirk.
Following the evacuation of Allied soldiers in 1940, unfolding in three strands and spanning varied periods of time. Dunkirk follows young soldier Tommy’s (Fionn Whitehead) week-long struggle to survive on land, civilian Mr Dawson’s (Mark Rylance) day at sea bidding to help stranded soldiers and finally fighter pilot Farrier’s (Tom Hardy) hour-long battle in the air.
Nolan’s cast of incredibly talented usual suspects return, which includes Cillian Murphy shining in a minor role and Hardy proving once more he can act circles around most even with the majority of his face concealed. In a seemingly growing trend of directors obscuring his face, firstly in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and again in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road.
The real standout is Whitehead though, impressively in his first movie. In what is arguably a silent film with its minimal dialogue, every harrowing moment of fear is etched on his face and captured masterfully by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, with exposing close-ups displaying the horrors he’s witnessed despite his youth. While Hoytema’s breath-taking long shots reveal Dunkirk’s scope, with jutting angles that hurl you right into the chaos.
With Memento, Nolan isn’t a stranger to juggling multiple timelines and Dunkirk flickers between stories seamlessly, with paths becoming intertwined and leading to graceful, poignant scenes that thankfully aren’t reminiscent of the jarring, schmaltzy ending of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Unlike war epics of the past that showcase the atrocities of battle, blood and guts included, Nolan opts to transport the audience directly to the conflict, with precision engineered tension that attacks the senses in what is a truly enthralling experience.
Escalating tension reaches a boiling point with the help of Hans Zimmer’s score, which ticks along with your rising heartbeat. Accompanying the high-stakes as well as the more stirring moments, without ever becoming overly sentimental.
A reconstruction of the war genre, Dunkirk is a storytelling marvel. Christopher Nolan once again proves he’s the connoisseur of the classy blockbuster.