Few directors have such a reputation that the release of their new film is an event and Christopher Nolan is one of those and Dunkirk is certainly an event. Based on what had the making of a military disaster the Allies are cornered on a beach in Dunkirk with the Germans drawing in and massive Allied casualties followed by the invasion of Britain almost inevitable.
Initially focusing on one soldier, Fionn Whitehead, who joins the thousands of British troops trapped on the beach waiting to be evacuated the film opens out into three distinct areas, The Mule, essentially a pier where the massed troops wait to board naval ships overseen by Kenneth Branagh's naval commander , The Sea, which focuses on a small leisure boat captained by Mark Rylance and his two sons who cross the channel in their bid to help with the evacuation and The Air where spitfire pilot Tom Hardy and two other pilots attempt to shoot down various German Luftwaffe planes intent on bombing the rescue ships at sea as well as the troops on the shore line. Each story ties in with the other and Nolan's script cleverly shows the same moment from the three view points usually with a dilemma within each.
It's a credit to the cast that despite the paucity of dialogue all are uniformly good. Fionn Whitehead is a unifying thread throughout the film as he lurches from one life threatening crisis to the next. Rylance & Brannagh are stoic & brave each aware of the desperate situation they are in and poor old Tom Hardy, much like Bane in 'The Dark Knight Returns', spends the film with his face covered by a pilots mask with only his eyes to convey the ever worsening situation he's facing. Even little pop moppet Harry Styles acquits himself well.
Nolan handles all this brilliantly but what really takes this into another league is Hans Zimmer's music. Relentless, it compliments the action ratcheting up the tension to a nerve shredding crescendo. This is so brilliantly done that certainly the film feels like one long frighteningly real action scene albeit a true one. Nolan, together with Zimmer and his Editor Lee Smith, have put together one of the best Summer blockbusters this year made all the more extraordinary by having almost no dialogue but letting the pictures paint the scene. Shot in Imax 70mm its certainly worth seeing it this way as its immersive nature takes you headlong into the action which will have your heart beating as loud as anything in the film with its all too real explosions and its terrifying fighter plane engines screaming as they hone in on the exposed troops. If there's any justice at next years Oscars then Nolan, Zimmer and Lee should, at the very least, be nominated.
This is an extraordinary film of a moment that was far from the military's finest hour and though the soldiers are the first to admit that, 'All we did was survive', it's a tremendously patriotic film about the courage, not just of the soldiers, but of the civilians who selflessly took their own boats across the channel to rescue thousands and thousands of troops. This is a testament to the courage of the few for the many and is sure to feature in many top ten end of year lists and rightly so.