Mark Rylance is at the heart of Christopher Nolan’s brilliantly directed war film, Dunkirk. Looking every bit the English gent in a shirt and tie and sweater, Rylance plays a civilian who sails his small boat to cross the Channel, hoping to ferry stranded British soldiers to return home. Nolan places of this quiet man where he puts the audience: in the middle of the action, incessant, in the course of one of the most renowned events of the second World War. In 1940, 400,000 British and French troops were surrounded by the enemy on a beach in France, with the English Channel, their only way of escape at home.
Dunkerque is immediately set apart from the more simple, hero-driven war film
The best war film of the last 20 years, including Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge, the place spectators at the centre of the battle. Nolan has not reinvented that immersive approach, but he comes close to perfecting it.
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The opening scenes visually invite us in the film. Several soldiers, their backs to the camera, walking along an empty street in the French city of Dunkerque. Nolan leaves a space between them in which we, the viewers, can go well, as if we were following them along the way. Seeing the film on a big screen makes it particularly easy to slip into his world . The Imax format has rarely been used to such good effect. (Shot in Imax 70mm, the film will be screened in cinemas in many different formats.)
Running from sudden gunfire, one of the young soldiers, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), arrive at the beach, which is full of troops waiting to climb too few ships. From there, in Fact, quickly establishes three different stories and times that are well dispersed throughout the film. The earth sequence on the beach covers a week. Among the characters, all fantasy, Kenneth Branagh’s British naval commander. He is the more traditional figure, worried about getting his men home.
Mark Rylance brings a depth beyond what is written in the script
Tommy, the innocent, and afraid, she meets a French soldier, and they desperately trying to carry a wounded man on a stretcher towards the shore. Theirs is not a noble act. They are pretending to be doctors, in the hope of getting on a ship and save themselves, which immediately set the Dunkerque, as well as the most simple, hero-driven war film.
Rylance’s character, Mr. Dawson, is part of a day of sea and of action, in which hundreds of small boats are called to contribute. Dawson young adult son and a teenage friend are also on board. Cillian Murphy later joins them as a soldier traumatized saved from the sea. But it is Rylance who carries the emotional weight of the film on his wrinkled, tired face, full of determination and simple decency. He brings a depth beyond the lines written in the script.
The war laid bare
Nolan has said that the inspirational story of the small ships was something he, like many in Britain, grew up in his “almost fairy-tale form.” The ‘Dunkirk spirit ‘ may be more familiar in the UK than elsewhere, but that is no obstacle. The film resonates in purely human terms, as Nolan strips away the myth to reveal a complex reality, and many different forms of heroism, and of fear.
The air battle, which only covers an hour, Tom Hardy, and Jack Lowden as RAF fighter pilots. When the fuel gauge fails, the Hardy character has to rely on radio contact with the Lowden, guess if he’ll have enough fuel to get his Spitfire home.
Is Mr. Dawson, who uses the apt phrase “sitting ducks.” All of these characters are under the fire from the sky, like Nolan, gives a sense of extreme vulnerability. For shelter from the bullets overhead, the soldiers on the beach can do little more than fall flat on their faces. Boats, large and small, that are sunk. The hull of a ship starts to fill with water, and the people who are supposedly saved, they have to fight their way. One of them is played by pop star Harry Styles, a quick-tempered soldier. Styles has a vibrant presence on screen, but his fans should know that this is a small part of it.
The technical achievement here is extraordinary
With relatively little dialogue, and characters who don’t have stories, in Fact, allows the action of the story and build the suspense. He allows the audience to feel the claustrophobia of entrapment in the hull of the bombed ship, and the immediate danger of being in the air like a German aircraft attack. The technical achievement here is amazing. Giant Imax cameras were also taken on the plans, and very little of the film on the computer advanced.
What matters most, though, is that the technique never calls attention to itself. Instead, the spectators are involved in the messy swirl of events. Each image logs: a fully dressed soldier walks into the sea, his choice never explained; bodies wash up to shore with the low tide.
Hans Zimmer’s perfectly modulated score is a decent mix of music and sound effects. It knits the film together and contributes to the tension without manipulating the emotions, the stereotypical manner, soaring melodies do the old war movies. And after all the intense drama, Dunkirk earns a sentimental ending, as the music, finally, flies with a theme borrowed from Elgar.
In Nolan’s previous films like The Dark Knight and The Prestige, has proven to be a master of action and pacing. He is slightly less accomplished as the screenwriter of Dunkirk. The film’s clear-eyed lack of sentiment, is one of its strengths. But if Saving Private Ryan veers a little too far toward pulling the strings of the heart, Dunkerque is a touch cooler and more cerebral as it could be. With the exception of Rylance Mr Dawson, we become attached to the characters as figures in history, without a connection viscerally or deeply.
But that slight tilt not to undermine the film’s great success. In a fast-paced 106 minutes, watching Dunkerque, becoming a beautiful and genuine experience, enveloping viewers in a way few films ever do.