They will fight us on the beaches, they will fight us in the air, they will fight us on the sea.
Master blockbuster filmmaker Christopher Nolan delivers once again with his latest film Dunkirk, a relentlessly tense military survival movie.It's unusual to have a World War II movie focus on such a monumental disaster and utter defeat, but Nolan spins it into a heroic tale of desperate survival in the face of relentless adversity. With Allied forces pushed to the brink and on the retreat, hundreds of thousands of soldiers line the beaches hoping to find a way home but with shallow waters and only one heavily bombed dock allowing access to boats - which are few and far between and heavily bombed themselves - hope is elusive.Taking his masterful command of time (Memento, Inception and Interstellar), Nolan fashions an unusual non-linear look at the struggle to escape Dunkirk, taking several interconnecting stories - on land, at sea, and in the air - and blending them into one incessantly tense, punishingly harrowing tale. Few filmmakers have such a great handle on big screen blockbusters with substance, and Nolan brings all his ample skill to bear here, delivering in narrative, action, visuals and thunderous score.
A largely unknown cast is arguably just what a movie like this needed - allowing us to follow disparate young individuals as they scramble around from the streets to the shore to the ships to the water, desperate just to get home. Perhaps throwing a pop star into the mix wasn't the greatest idea in this regard but at least he lasts a while before he starts to grate, and this film is hardly about any one individual. Standouts are nonetheless easy to spot - from another superbly nuanced performance by Mark Rylance as a Brit back home who takes his boat, and his boys, out to assist in the rescue, to a PTSD-stricken Cillian Murphy, with another commanding turn from Branagh at the front of it all. It's probably Hardy, though that deserves the most praise, taking to the air in a role where - for almost the entire movie - you only get to see his eyes, flying a Spitfire into the maelstrom for some of the most spectacular, and most realistic aerial battles of this era ever brought to life on film. Indeed it's ironic that Hardy, with few words and a plane rather than land-based vehicle, is far more reminiscent of classic Mad Max here than he ever was in Fury Road.
Few filmmakers have such a great handle on big screen blockbusters with substance
The action setpieces are exquisitely shot, from the opening scene - which felt like it was straight out of a horror movie - to the bombing run on the beach, to the myriad sinking vessels and the spectacular aerial combat. And whilst Nolan's obsession with all things time-related doesn't elicit seamless results (some of the jumps back and forth don't gel in quite the same way as they did in, say Inception, even though here he's admittedly playing out of kilter, rather than in different time zones, as it were) it certainly adds an extra layer to the piece, giving it new depth and dimension.
Clearly a passion project (he's been working on it for some 25 years), this may not be his most spectacular work - it's going to take a hell of a lot to reach the dizzy heights of The Dark Knight, or display the kind of ambition Inception, and even Interstellar, offered - but it is undeniably accomplished. A tense, efficient runtime allows the ticking clock score to hound you from start to finish, with few moments to breathe as you're thrown from one desperate escape scenario to the next with little reprieve. It's impressive, oppressive and unmissable.
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