So, I did what I said I would do and went and watched Dunkirk, even though it is a war film and I am really not a fan of war films, but as it was a Christopher Nolan film, I made an exception. And I am glad that I did! My head is still hurting from the emotional impact of the piece. It is a film that has deservedly garnered five-star reviews.
With an incredibly sparse script, this is a story told how film should be, without all the clever exposition – though there is a tiny bit -, just a full on visual and aural assault. It is so evident in the storytelling that this is a subject that is close to Nolan’s heart. After a quiet, sedate opening, that last less than two minutes, the bombs, literally and aurally, start dropping.
Besides the sound, in an age where the ability to film in 4K or 1080p digital is available to anyone who can afford a high-end mobile phone or even just a good DSLR camera, Nolan, a real film lover, resolutely shoots on celluloid. With Dunkirk, he shot the film on 70mm celluloid and it looks spectacular for it. The colour depth is astounding, everything looking real without looking overly enhanced or saturated.
The wide shots of the beach have you staring as if you were actually on the beach, sand and soldiers as far as the eyes can see. Nolan’s obsession with water – Inception, Interstellar – continues in Dunkirk out of pure necessity. There is so much of the channel in this film, one could get seasickness. So many shots display the vastness and isolation that the young men feel as they wait and struggle and strive to escape the hell of the war and the impending arrival of the German forces.
Hans Zimmer is at the peak of his powers on the soundtrack, his powerful melodies carrying the emotion of war as much as the bombings and air raids. As much as the picture is captivating and the sound both deafening and enveloping, it is the way that the film makes you feel that is especially powerful.
Fear is a terrible and powerful thing and in the faces of the young soldiers, hoping and praying to get back to a home that, with a keen eye, can be seen on a clear day from the beaches, makes the fear tangible. Exposed on an open beach and piers, as they wait for transportation that may or may not be coming, the sound of an incoming enemy plane, laden with bombs, a horrible siren of death and they can do nothing but cower and pray that, though they are prepared to die for their fellow countrymen on the field of battle, the bomb does not drop on them and instead hits some other poor unfortunate soul.
At just over an hour and forty minutes long, Dunkirk is one of Nolan’s shortest films in some years. Not that the running time affects the storytelling. If anything, it enhances it, such is the tension when watching, it is hard to know if it would have been possible to maintain that tension over two hours.
As has been popular recently, there was an appearance by a famous face, one that is not known for acting. After Ed Sheeran turning up in the omnipresent Game Of Thrones and David Beckham lending his thespian talents to Guy Richie’s latest effort, King Arthur, neither of which I have seen – sorry, I don’t watch GOT and I’m too far behind to start now – both cameos getting a critical bashing, it was a risk for Nolan to cast a pop star whose magnitude matches Ed Sheeran’s. Not only did he cast Harry Styles, he of One Direction fame – I know the band, but please do not ask me to name one of their tracks! – he gave him a proper role, an acting role and he was good.
Looking the right age to play a young soldier, Styles blends in seamlessly with the surroundings, his stratospheric fame not affecting or impacting the performance. Nolan claimed to have no notion as to who Styles was before the shooting of the film. Perhaps this is true, but if Styles global fame can entice a new audience, a younger audience that probably would have no interest in Dunkirk and its place in history were it not for their idol, then the casting, accidental or not, will have been a stroke of genius. Just like the film.