Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

"Dunkirk"

I realised, as I settled in to watch “Dunkirk” that I have seen all of Christopher Nolan’s feature-length films on the big screen (apart from his low-budget debut “Following”, which I caught up with on television). It was, therefore, the promise of an all-enveloping cinematic experience which drew me to resist my long-standing aversion to war films (“Apocalypse Now” excepted). I have to say I’m glad I made the effort.

Even on a standard cinema screen, Nolan is adept at ensuring that we are up close and personal in all of the three story-strands. The action is most sweatily tense when as we follow the fate of the British WW2 soldiers, overseen by an anxious Kenneth Branagh, waiting to be evacuated from the French coast and facing constant danger from Nazi bombers. Mark Rylance’s plucky boat-owner, setting off across the Channel to rescue stranded troops faces his own traumas; and the plucky Spitfire pilots, led by Tom Hardy, tasked with fending off German planes, are stuck with the most conventionally heroic and visually familiar narrative elements.

Nolan’s cleverly-structured script situates the three stories in different time-scales, ensuring that they converge at a climactic point. The dialogue is straight from period cinema, but the sense of dread is palpable, and in the midst of impeccably choreographed and photographed mayhem - hats off to cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema - at least one tragedy comes out of nowhere. Hans Zimmer’s score riffs cleverly on Elgar, and subtly ramps up the tension.



There have been many bloodier or angrier or more frenetic war films, and Joe Wright’s “Atonement” certainly gave far more of a sense of the scale of the event – 400,000 troops are spoken of here, but largely unseen. It is Nolan’s focus on individual experiences, however which, with great effectiveness, conveys the sense being a part of greater events whilst still being isolated from them.


This is filmmaking at its most involvingly cinematic.

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