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Categories: Movie Reviews

Patriotic to the end says Neill McNamara, who sees the greatness of a modern classic in Christopher Nolan’s stirring Dunkirk.

One of my favourite films of all time is Saving Private Ryan. The way Spielberg captured the personal stories within the wider tale of the American campaign into Europe during the Second World War was as fascinating as it was compelling, and was a patriotic American masterpiece. As a British man, I therefore went into Dunkirk hoping to have a similar experience and be shown a testament to the near-impossible circumstances my ancestors managed to push through, and I am happy to say that it delivered and then some.

Dunkirk follows three different storylines, taking place at different times in a week-long expanse of time, during the awful events that occurred at Dunkirk, France in the last spring of 1940. Nazi Germany had pushed through France at incredible speed due to their use of Blitzkrieg tactics, and had trapped British, French and Belgian forces on the northern French coast. The British Naval fleet was already stretched thin, so the British government requisitioned civilian ships and recruited civilian sailors to cross the English Channel and bring our boys home.

Christopher Nolan is well-known for being a director who can create the whole package, and he has certainly done the job here. Lighting, audio, soundtrack, casting, costuming and so much more are blended together so perfectly in this piece that I honestly find very little to fault about it. The film runs very differently from anything I have ever seen before. There is little focus on the intricacies of the individual characters themselves, and more on the event itself and how it affected everyone. I felt as personally invested in all 300’000 soldiers on that beach as I did for the main characters, and that is not a bad thing. If you are expecting some deep character progression or romantic sub-plot weaved in somewhere in this film you’ll find yourself at a loss. Whilst most films where the characters aren’t fleshed out are bashed for it, I personally praise Dunkirk for it here.

I was shocked to find that the film features barely any dialogue. Again, this sort of thing would normally be a strike against a film, but the void left behind by the lack of speech is filled in with an incredible score written by Hans Zimmer. The music is intense and brooding, playing almost constantly and employing an auditory illusion in which different tones are played at the same time, one rising in pitch and the other falling. This is known as the Shepard Tone, and its use in the film is to trick the listener into thinking the pitch of the music is always raising, always building to a fever-pitch but never actually getting there. This stroke of genius makes the film feel so constantly visceral and stressful that it really left a mark on me. It felt like I was put in the shoes of one of those soldiers on the beach, constantly in danger, living in fear of death from above that could hit at any second without any notice.

The film’s cast was second-to-none. Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden and Fionn Whitehead all nailed their scenes with ease. I was a little concerned that the casting of Harry Styles as a soldier on the beach was simply an attempt to coerce younger audiences to attend, but was pleasantly surprised by his performance. He was actually portrayed as a bit close-minded and unsympathetic, rather than a knight-in-shining-armour type that I feared he would be shown as, and I feel he played his role quite well.

All in all, I am not afraid to say that Dunkirk is the best film I have seen this year. I was hoping for a true masterpiece, Britain’s Saving Private Ryan, and I honestly believe that this has been delivered upon. Everything just works in this film, from the set design to the acting. Dunkirk is the complete package which captures a moment in time where the danger was ever-present and the tension never surrendered.

Dunkirk is out now in cinemas.

Posted on Aug 7, 2017

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