They came by air. They came by sea. They came on land. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk explores all three aspects of the legendary WW2 event where allied soldiers were miraculously rescued from certain death on the French beach. An already cinematic event, Nolan works his magic to create a tense, immersive experience that surpasses even the likes of Saving Private Ryan as a truly remarkable war film.
With each story thread taking place over a different time scale, Nolan has applied some distinct quirks to add more of an identity to his war film but it is in the sheer realism and tension throughout that the true strength of the film is found. Nolan drops you in the shoes of a range of soldiers and civilians to give a broad view of what it was truly like to be involved in this historical event; the real horror of being potentially killed at any moment is exploited by Nolan but is necessary to create a sense of true empathy with the characters – many of which have limited screen time due to the large cast and fractured story. The emotion for these brave men and what unites them comes from their shared need to survive and the clear sense that death is looming over them at all times.
With civilians making their way by boat to help the stranded troops, several young soldiers trapped on the beach and Tom Hardy in the air shooting down the enemy; Nolan has plenty of ground to cover in depicting the battle but manages to keep it balanced and maintain the tension throughout despite the action constantly changing between the three stories. All of these events are presented with the perfect mix of gritty realism and stunning cinematography; beautiful shots of the crowded beaches contrast with the lone spitfire overhead, creating a true sense of the hopelessness that the stranded troops feel. By not giving the enemy a face to identify with, the focus and our sympathy falls directly on the Allied forces as they come under bombardment; events are truly from their perspective and it becomes easy to see the terror that causes brave men to run in fear.
The story of Dunkirk has finally been adapted into one of the strongest war films ever made, this strength comes not just from the characters but from the tense, realistic atmosphere Christopher Nolan has created, making Dunkirk one of the most thrilling, immersive experiences you are likely to have in the cinema this year.