Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2017)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, James D’Arcy, Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance
World War II rages on and penned back across the beaches of Dunkirk, the Allied Forces of Britain, France and Belgium are desperately awaiting evacuation as the advancing German forces close in. On the beaches, on the sea and in the air, the fighting rages on as the Germans begin to take a stranglehold on the Allied Forces. Only the wounded are allowed passage on the ships heading home to England. The civilian ships are en route, but they will be no match for the German U-boats and the Messerschmitt’s and Heinkel’s above them. This is a dark time for the Allies.
Survival is the only option for the soldiers on Dunkirk, and if they are to make it home, they will have to combine luck, bravery and determination – and they shall never surrender.
Filmed as a triptych, Dunkirk follows three story threads within the same week at different times. ‘The Mole’ is the story of the stranded soldiers on land and covers one week. ‘The Sea’ follows a civilian vessel heading to the beaches to help with the evacuation and covers one day. ‘The Air’ shows the fierce aerial battles above the sea and beaches and covers one hour. The narrative is non-linear but it is effective.
On land, Tommy (Whitehead) escapes from a devastating street ambush and arrives on the beach to the sight of thousands of soldiers awaiting evacuation – whenever it may come. There he meets Gibson (Barnard), who is burying a fallen comrade. Together they help the wounded to the departing ships, but are not allowed passage themselves. Hiding beneath the mole, they cling on for life as the ship is attacked and soldiers desperately pore from it. They manage to save a young solder, Alex (Style) from being crushed and from there they repeatedly attempt to flee Dunkirk as the sea and air attacks intensify.
Riding the ocean in their small civilian vessel are Mr. Dawson (Rylance), his son Peter (Glynn-Carney) and their neighbour George (Keoghan). Initially commandeered by the Royal Navy, Dawson sails off before they could arrive, determined to lead his own ship. Along their route, they encounter a shell-shocked soldier (Murphy) sitting alone on the wreck of his ship. As he begins to realise the ship is not heading home but back towards Dunkirk, his paranoia and fear consumes him. Unperturbed in the face of it all, Dawson continues towards Dunkirk to serve his country and bring the stricken solders home.
In the skies above the English Channel, three Spitfires are providing support for the troops, but with fuel limited, they can only perform for a restricted time before returning home to replenish their levels. They eventually encounter the Luftwaffe and engage in furious and skilled dogfights, battling to prevent the Germans destroying the evacuating ships and attacking the soldiers on the beach further. During the combat, pilot Farrier (Hardy) assumes control of the skirmish as depleted fuel levels and German aircraft threaten to end the effort at any moment.
Christopher Nolan returns with a project he began writing two decades ago, and now finally has it on the big screen. Dunkirk is a claustrophobic, tense and aggressive war movie that eschews the need for action heroes and OTT graphic images. Instead, Nolan relies on an ensemble cast, fantastic cinematography, rising tension and a steely need for realism to craft a movie centring on the efforts and not the individuals. By not giving the characters extended backstories or development, we simply follow soldiers and civilians in the nightmare of war and the movie succeeds for this.
Tom Hardy will be the leading name, however the young lads on the land are the stars of this movie. Whilst Hardy gives a fine performance (complete with near-trademark mask) and could be dubbed as the ‘hero’ of the proceedings, the efforts of the young stars propel the movie forward. Fionn Whitehead is strong in his feature debut as Tommy, and embodies the youthful fear and determination carried by the soldiers of the Allied Forces. Pop fop Harry Styles only follows one direction in this movie and that’s towards a surprisingly fine performance as the more cynical, passionate Alex – terrified of being labelled a coward back home. Similarly, Mark Ryland is superb as Mr. Dawson, sailing towards the madness in order to do his duty. There really are no weak performances throughout, and the ensemble are fantastic together.
Visually, the movie is a treat. Nolan always pushes the boundaries of film-making in this respect, and Dunkirk is the next step for him. Along with DOP Hoyte Van Hoytema, the sheer scale of the movie is presented in the grandest way. IMAX cameras are employed as handheld and integrated within the Spitfires to capture every sweeping movement and to thrust the viewers right up into the skies and through the chaos on the beaches and ships. The spectacle of war is captured beautifully, and the enclosed panic within the stricken boats is terrifying. You don’t feel like you’re watching proceedings, you feel as if you are there in them. Hans Zimmer returns to provide a masterful score, complimenting the onscreen situations and providing a rising sense of dread as the strings begin to pierce and the volume increases.
In order to avoid the use of CGI, Nolan employed a huge amount of extras to line the beaches and to crowd the mole, employing silent movie techniques to elicit genuine reactions. More impressive than that, real Spitfires were used throughout the filming, alongside a Hispano Buchon and large scale models for crashes as well as over sixty ships – including many that were at Dunkirk in June 1940. When actual vessels or people could not be used, cardboard cut-outs were used to create the effects.
One of Nolan’s key issues is dialogue and throughout the movie, there isn’t a whole lot of it, instead focusing on the situations at hand. There were a few short moments where the dialogue began to falter but when that is the movie’s major problem, you know it isn’t a problem. There is no forced emotion on offer, no manipulation, instead the movie’s emotional moments play out unexpectedly and are almost downplayed, avoiding the sentimentality on offer in previous wartime offerings.
As the movie plays out and the enduring resolve of the Allied Forces is creeping out there is a sense of pride and joy – the soldiers cheering for the civilian boats and for the comrades in the air, the elation as soldiers begin to arrive at the glorious Woking train station – and as Churchill’s defiant speech to the nation plays out, we remember the sacrifices of the millions. Managing to create a stunning movie whilst encapsulating the sheer horror, madness and chaos of war, Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s finest work, and if he can top it in the future, then we are only in for extra greatness.
July 23rd 2017