I have a soft spot for war movies, precisely why I was so exited to catch a show of Dunkirk on the first day. Though Dunkirk plays in the biggest screen of the multiplex, but before entering the theatre, you’re reminded that the film is shot on medium format, which means the movie will not cover the whole screen. But that is the perks you get with a Cristopher Nolan film. There are very few directors that still shoot on film, and Nolan is one of them. People all around the world love him for that.
Now the premise of Dunkirk, portraying a chapter in World War II history, whose outcome is no secret. Yet Nolan, aided by Hans Zimmer’s thunderous score, conjures a relentless sense of dread and jeopardy that creeps into your bones. It’s true; I spent most part of the film pressed into my seat.
Almost all of us are aware of the storyline: The evacuation of Allied troops – more than 300,000 soldiers, mostly British – who were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk in northern France, desperate to make it across the English Channel, while being bombarded by the Nazis. Nolan, who also wrote the script of the film, establishes three spaces where the story unfolds; land, sea and air. All the three narratives has their own timeframes, but they are woven so seamlessly that there is almost no effort in distinguishing, neither does it distrbs the formation of the complete plot.
On the ground, amidst the falling bombs and chaos, we follow a young, scared British soldier named Tommy (newcomer Fionn Whitehead) as he struggles to stay alive until he can be rescued. Up above, a handful of Royal Air Force Spitfire pilots, including Farrier (Tom Hardy), engage in dogfights against German bomber and fighter planes to keep the men on the ground safe. There’s also the track involving a civilian English sailor, Dawson (Mark Rylance), and his teenage son who head out in his small leisure yacht across the Channel to bring home as many of the stranded soldiers as they can.
Many viewers are refusing to categorise Dunkirk as a war film, and I wouldn’t blame them. Unlike Saving Private Ryan which lingered on stomach-turning images of disembodied corpses to convey the horrors of war, there is virtually no sight of blood in Dunkirk. Instead, this is a film that throws you front and centre into the action to experience the terror first-hand. Long portions of eerie silence are broken by the sudden, deafening noise of gunshots and explosions.
DP Hoyte van Hoytema’s IMAX camera is enchanting, the aerial scenes are especially hair-raising, and add to the overall effect of a race against time. Sitting in Kolkata currently, I can only feel jeolous for my friends in Mumbai who would at least have the chance to view the film on an IMAX screen. I can only imagine that the terrific camerawork, sound design, and propulsive score work together to deliver an intense immersive experience that is best enjoyed on an IMAX screen.
The film barely has any dialogues, long periods of silence dominate the film. Because of these periods of silence, and because of Nolan’s refusal to rely on words to tell his story, Hans Zimmer’s terrific score becomes crucial, and slowly, emerges as a character in its own right. Like the film, it is unrelentingly intense, stretched to breaking point as it conjures tension seemingly from nothing.
I have no other option than to grant this movie a 5/5 rating. It is definately one of the best war films ever made, and undoubtedly the years’ best film. Watch this movie if you’re a nolan fan, watch it even if you’re not. Do not dare to miss it.