The Longest Day
With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan goes from intergalactic odyssey (Interstellar) and superheroes (The Dark Knight trilogy) to grounded realism.
If you are going into Dunkirk looking for a bloody, gruesome tale look elsewhere. Dunkirk is, by all accounts, a thriller that relies on relentless tension. Dunkirk’s story of survival is even more realized from different viewpoints. Since the evacuation of troops off the beaches is a key factor in the film, one viewpoint isn’t enough to get the whole picture.
Nolan tackles this challenge by incorporating different personal stories that give the film a broader scope. Told from three different perspectives during the film; land, sea, and air over the course of a week, day, and hour respectively. Newcomer Fionn Whitehead (Tommy) and Harry Styles (Alex) struggle to survive on the beach, waiting to be evacuated by anyone willing to take them out of harms way. Mark Rylance plays an interesting role in the film, as civilian Mr. Dawson, who gets the call to assist in the evacuation by using his own sailing boat. Nolan favorite Cillian Murphy makes an appearance as a soldier who winds up on Mr Dawson’s boat, while another Nolan favorite, Tom Hardy (Farrier) and his Spitfire squadron take to the skies to provide air-support. Kenneth Branagh also makes an appearance as Commander Bolton tasked with trying to secure his men passage home.
Even though there are three individual stories that the viewer is following, it still feels easy to understand. In all honesty, there comes a certain point in the film where one storyline is taking place at night, while the others are during the day. It was confusing at first, but when I began to understand what was trying to be achieved, I appreciated it.
Despite Dunkirk not being a gruesome experience the likes of Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge; I’d argue it’s tenser. Most of this tension is due in large part to Nolan’s recurring collaborator Hans Zimmer, who provides a score that’s utterly nerve-racking. Zimmer utilizes a ticking noise in the background throughout the majority of the film leaving an imminent sense of danger that can come at any time, as if a bomb is about to go off. The film, as a whole, is a relentless bombardment of sound and images that never let up.
Dunkirk may divide some viewers; those looking for a brutal war film or one with interesting characters that develop over the film are safer watching other films. Just like 2013’s Gravity, Dunkirk is an achievement on a technical level; thrusting viewers into the thick of the battle for a good hour-and-forty minutes. Viewing it in IMAX, or the best viewing experience possible is the best way to experience this film. Dunkirk’s just that; an experience.
Dunkirk shows that Christopher Nolan can sacrifice character building for stunning spectacle and sheer tension. Leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat until the very end.