(Christopher Nolan, 2017)
Reviewed by Dave Lancaster
Summary: A masterpiece from a director on one hell of a roll, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is a rare breed: a war film with a tender heart.
Dunkirk could well be the most suspenseful film of 2017. Maybe it's Hans Zimmer's unnervingly relentless score or that the story is grounded in truth but more likely it's a sum of the many parts that director Christopher Nolan has fused together so wonderfully.
Depicting the tail-end of the disastrous six-week long Battle of France in WW2, Dunkirk picks up when the Allied troops are essentially cornered: they've been pushed to the shores of France by advancing German troops. It's not much of a port for a navy-backed extraction (too shallow for large boats, too open a target for Axis planes) and the majority of the Allied boats are needed elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of men are stranded. The tension is palpable.
As the navy and military address the bigger picture while at the mercy of politics and the enemy's brute force, the call goes out in England for civilian fishermen and casual sailors to give up their small boats to be taken across the channel in order to extract the soldiers. The marketing tagline is perfectly encapsulating: "400,000 men couldn't get home. So home came for them.".
But that's just one part of the incredible story that Nolan focusses on. He covers land, sea and air in his storytelling which shuffles the timelines of a select bunch of civilian sailors, ground troops and fighter pilots whose instinctual actions often create a domino effect for the others. The strength of Nolan's film is that while it has an epic backdrop the resulting drama is played out with near claustrophobic closeness. There's no relief in shoddy CGI or matinee melodrama heroics - Dunkirk is the real deal.
Nolan has skilfully assembled quite the cast as well with the likes of Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, James D'Arcy and even pop singer Harry Styles all getting a chance to shine amid the grit of the riveting narrative. Nolan, with Inception, Interstellar, The Prestige and The Dark Knight Trilogy, is no stranger to the demands of juggling an ensemble cast - in fact it's become something of a trademark as he plays characters and levels of emotion and plot off against each other all the while factoring in some degree of ticking clock undercurrent.
As far as filmmaking goes, this is one of (if not THE) finest crafted films of the year. With Nolan in the director's chair, as scriptwriter and co-producer it's obvious that this is the work of a true auteur that will stand in the film history books alongside the Kubricks, Hitchcocks and Leans. The sense of wonder, suspense and gravitas of those three directors respectively is evident in Dunkirk.
Be sure to pick this up on Blu-ray (or better still 4K if your system can support it). This is a bracingly taut film that deserves to be seen on as large and loud a home theatre as possible.
Exclusive behind the scenes content showcasing how the miracle of Dunkirk was recreated as bonus features include:
- Creation: Revisiting The Miracle (Featurette) 7:44
- Creation: Dunkerque (Featurette) 4:53
- Creation: Expanding the Frame (Featurette) 3:22
- Creation: The In-Camera Approach (Featurette) 5:47
- Land: Rebuilding the Mole (Featurette) 5:55
- Land: The Army On the Beach (Featurette) 5:13
- Land: Uniform Approach (Featurette) 5:16
- Air: Taking to the Air (Featurette) 12:27
- Air: Inside the Cockpit (Featurette) 5:53
- Sea: Assembling the Naval Fleet (Featurette) 3:34
- Sea: Launching the Moonstone (Featurette) 5:49
- Sea: Taking to the Sea (Featurette) 13:37
- Sea: Sinking the Ships (Featurette) 7:22
- Sea: The Little Ships (Featurette) 5:51
- Conclusion: Turning Up the Tension (Featurette) 7:10
- Conclusion: The Dunkirk Spirit (Featurette) 7:47