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Victory or defeat for Nolan?

Dunkirk is an explosion of cinematic wonder, depicting the grilling moments of attack and evacuation from the French seaside town during WWII. Three stories were intertwined: seven days on land, one day at sea, and one hour in the air. This action film directed by Christopher Nolan is a sensational and ruthless experience. If you don’t already know the events that occurred at Dunkirk, some massive spoilers are about to be thrown your way.

The opening scene throws us straight into the action: the main character Tommy hurtles down the streets of Dunkirk to escape the enemy’s gunfire and onto the glistening stretch of beach leading to the English Channel. Almost an idyllic scene apart from the grim figures of soldiers waiting for their freedom and the corpses being buried or floating in the surf. Tommy is played by Fionn Whitehead in his first movie role.

The destroyer ship that Tommy and Gibson (Anuerin Barnard) are turned away from is bombed by the German Luftwaffe. The second ship which they manage to board is sunk by a German torpedo and they have to swim to shore again. Kenneth Branagh masterfully holds the story together as the commander of operations clinging to the edge of hope, as everything falls apart around him.

The dialogue was sparse and seemed to have a transactional purpose when it was used. That being said, the main concept is that these soldiers were young and frightened men who were focusing on one thing only: survival. The action driven plot allowed the audience to concentrate on that, and the looks shared between Tommy and Gibson were enough to indicate their bond. Wide bird eye shots of the destruction taking place were greatly contrasted with handheld cameras following the main characters around, painstakingly covering their every move, every breath and every emotion.

Sir Mark Rylance’s scenes in the movie as sailor Mr. Dawson with his son Peter and his friend George (Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan respectively), offered us an alternative perspective as one of the heroes going to Dunkirk to help the troops get back home. Mr. Dawson picks up a surviving solider from the torpedo attack (Cillian Murphy) and an air pilot who crash landed in the water (Jack Lowden) before reaching the shoreline of France.

Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden play RAF pilots attempting to take out the German planes before they can advance on the Destroyer ships and bomb them. They arguably had the most vital purpose in the film to ensure as many soldiers made it across the channel as possible. Fighter plane sequences are shot at various sweeping angles, specifically in first person, along with Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack that throbs like a heartbeat or shrieks like a broken eardrum. The ‘proximity’ of the music has an effective way of making us believe we are there seeing, hearing and feeling the same things as these men.

Harry Styles’ acting debut as soldier Alex was better than expected. He not only attracted a younger audience but also portrayed well the fact that soldiers needed to put on a front to hide their vulnerability. He had a particularly strong presence during a scene where they hide inside an abandoned boat nearer to German territory, hoping the tide will take them out to sea. Alex accuses Gibson of being a German spy, who doesn’t speak in the film until now. It is then that they discover he is a French ally.

Dunkirk succeeded well as an action film and accurately portrayed the trauma that these British soldiers experienced. It felt authentic if a little confusing as it jumped between each storyline. Merging the timelines together without it losing its thread was a challenging task which came together towards the end with in a bittersweet moment celebrating their survival. I walked away from the cinema, awestruck and proud of the immense bravery these soldiers had, and the solidarity they showed throughout.

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