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STEPHEN'S MOVIE GUIDE

Dunkirk  

Review: written 27th July 2017

Exquisite merging of visceral reality and poetic cinema

There is nothing typical or expected about this movie. Christopher Nolan has delivered a movie which in its innovative storytelling style is both poetic in tone, and yet completely gut wrenching in its level of tension and sheer sense of experiencing the reality of the moment.

The events of Dunkirk are told through 3 different strands, which are interwoven in non-linear fashion. The events on the beach, where soldiers were stuck for a week, the Little Ships who came to the rescue, over the course of a day, and in the air, a sortie of Spitfires with about an hours worth of fuel. I’m sure the non linear storytelling might split opinion, but for this viewer it was brilliantly conceived and executed, adding to the tension.

Nolan has eschewed any digressions into the War Room with generals discussing strategy, and tells the whole story with relatively sparse dialogue, and a sense we simply know what the average soldier knew at the time. Our map comes via a propaganda leaflet, and our understanding of events comes through visual events or snippets of conversations overheard. This means that with a terrifically committed cast, we get to feel the events, rather than see the experience diluted by stepping out of the moment for a tactical overview.

Indeed the tension is at times excruciating. We don’t have a bloody Saving Private Ryan style depiction here, but don’t be fooled that a lack of blood spurts or bone crunching makes this less tense or realistic.. the tension is relentless, driven by a score which never lets up until the soldiers get home. This is underlined by stunning and thoughtful cinematography – yes, there are wide shots which show the vistas of the beach covered with soldiers waiting to leave, and the IMAX photography captures the grand scale of events, but the overall feeling is paradoxically claustrophobic, with the shots being almost invariably point of view shots. For every establishing shot from the air or along the beach, we cut to closely framed shots of faces, framed by cockpits, boat bridges, steel, sand and hatches.

The performances makes this work, and for a large part the actors are unknown – at least, unknown in the acting domain. We never doubt these men are of the time, and we believe and empathise in how they feel, whether it is noble or not.

I loved this movie.. it succeeds on every level, as an exercise in delivering atmosphere, tension, claustrophobia and scale, and never at the expense of character or historical accuracy. In short, every cinematic storytelling tool has been used here to perfection, in a movie which is undoubtedly one of the best war movies put on the big screen.





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