When I left my parents, on route to see Dunkirk, my Grandma scoffed, dismayed by the films she was familiar with that glorified a horrific time she lived through. Dunkirk, whilst not without it’s moments of hope, is certainly not all about glory. Dunkirk is a tense, often uncomfortable watch, which never quite gives you a full moments reprieve. For that though, its all the stronger; solidifying it as one of the best films this year.
From the opening scenes, it is clear what Nolan has set out to do. This is a war film more about tension and suspense, than it is about ‘action’ set pieces; it’s about making you uncomfortable because the subject matter is uncomfortable. Your heroes here aren’t larger than life, performing unbelievable stunts, they’re men on the ground, air, and sea living in the vile moment to moment nature of battle. This is a film that is trying to convey the true horror of war and succeeding beyond its own expectations; doing so by forgoing gore in favour of tension, and relying on the brutality of real events, real attitudes, than shocking, blood covered scenes. Similarly the enemy too, are never seen, but are continually felt. Aside from their planes, the German army isn’t even glimpsed, but this atmosphere of the faceless threat only serves to add rather than take away; giving a feeling of overall oppression, a feeling of hopelessness and struggle, of ever dwindling hope.
Nolan proves here what he can do when given his freedom, when he’s allowed to work on a passion project and unhampered by studios and external script writers. He also proves he can play to his own strengths, performing his technically masterful shots and staying clear of dialogue, his usual downfall. In Dunkirk, Nolan almost sits back and lets the war tell itself, but he does so with a series of beautiful long shots, and claustrophobic close ups, managing to fully portray both the scale of war and the emotional weathering of the individuals within it. Here he delivers a better film than any of his previous, one that is carefully considered, and tackled with tact. There’s still glory here, the film isn’t unrelentingly miserable – Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot springs to mind – but it doesn’t come out the blue and it isn’t the sum of the movies more grueling parts.
The true feeling of being at War will never be captured on film, it is something unimaginable and indescribable; a horror known only to those unfortunate enough to have took part. Dunkirk, however, comes far closer than many other films. The tension, the rare moments of quiet, the lack of relaxation throughout the whole piece… Everything Nolan does here is masterful. I was blown away from the opening scene, the harrowing sounds of the gunshots, and I couldn’t even force myself to relax as the credits rolled. To borrow the words of a friend, Dunkirk will leave you half in awe and half shell shocked, and it certainly did both. This is a film that will rattle you in an unforgettable way, and it is easily a contender for the best film of the year. As someone who isn’t normally a big fan of War films, I can’t recommend Dunkirk enough.