You can practically see it from here. Home.
With such a monumental achievement, I struggle to find words to express quite how blown away I was by Christopher Nolan’s 2017 account of the evacuation of Dunkirk, but – seeing as I was so profoundly taken aback by it – I felt I could not neglect to write my review. Dunkirk, almost immediately, has taken its place among the greatest films I have ever watched. Without a doubt, this will be Nolan’s masterpiece.
400,000 men are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, with the enemy surrounding them, desperate to get home – and so home comes for them. Following three sets of characters over three different time spans (a Nolan-esque twist which was not at all unwelcome), it has the scale of an epic, but the intimacy needed to draw the humanity from the history. Over a week, we follow the boys (for Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles look barely old enough to get a pint at a bar) on the beach. Over a day, Mark Rylance sails out with his son and young George, to do their bit, manning only a civilian pleasure craft. And over one hour, Tom Hardy – acting with his eyes – engages in dogfights over the water. And the impressively fluid movement from one to the next creates a beautifully disorientating effect.
The film shows colour-toning done impeccably well – the blues and greys are never dull, but cold and chilling. And the sound design shows a master at work. Bullets should make you jump, and they do; the sound at its most unpleasant when we follow pilots in the cockpit. As metal cracks on metal, it is terrifying as if you were there. Roaring engines and crashing tides, and a soundtrack by the wonderful Hanz Zimmer, pulsing and ticking beneath the action – ramping up tension that can’t seem to be ramped any higher.
I have never seen a film with a cast that have been, every single one of them, equally good and good at such a high standard. It is a cast to dream of. Christopher Nolan himself said it was the best cast imaginable – and he’s right. I would mention them all, but I’ll name a few.
Mark Rylance provides his inimitable warmth and humanity that feels so genuine you forget he’s acting. Cillian Murphy, aptly named ‘shivering soldier’, is at his very best anguished self – really a joy to watch. James D’Arcy is one of the most watchable actors working today, and his energy is oddly contagious. I must mention Harry Styles who is very, very good (though should perhaps be focused upon less my the media) and Aneurin Barnard also gives a silently powerful performance.
The humanity of Dunkirk is admirable. At the core of this is the people. Criticised for leaving the characters as ‘blank slates’, I was afraid that the film would lack a sense of individual. But the personal emotion is riveting, ever-present, and heart-wrenching. It permeates all the action. Never does a plane crash for the sake of it. Never does a torpedo go off for the sake of it. It is all brought back to the true cost – human lives.
The heroism is not grand-scale, military victory, but the survival they manage when they band together.
I can’t say much more.
Dunkirk is a masterpiece.