From Pearl Harbour to Saving Private Ryan, Hollywood often trumpets the glory of war and America’s involvement. But Dunkirk offers a British perspective, avoiding gung-ho bombast to focus on the camaraderie of those simply trying to safeguard their passage home. It’s a moving journey, and a groundbreaking spin on an often tired genre.
Dunkirk is the work of Christopher Nolan, a directing great who had much to lose when taking on the job. Firstly, the story he tells – British soldiers trapped on French beaches escaping with the help of hundreds of private boats from back home – has been told countless times before. And he then brings a mismatched ensemble cast of huge names (Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branagh, who all make brief but much-anticipated appearances) and untested new talent: Harry Styles here takes a break from pop superstardom to make his much-fêted acting debut, as critics sharpen their knives. If Dunkirk faltered even slightly, the naysayers would be ready to pounce.
But Nolan’s epic delivers on all fronts – including Styles’ impressive big screen debut. There’s no glorifying of war, no needless thirst for blood, no pointlessly explosive, budget-busting scenes. Dunkirk instead zooms up close to the psychological impact of conflict. Each fraught exchange and snapshot of battle is rooted to the human stories developing on those beaches, all of which hang on a knife edge.
As with Nolan’s previous classics (2008’s The Dark Knight, 2010’s Inception), this is a thrill-packed, nail-biting watch. Dialogue is used sparingly. Instead, its focus is on the frail, often speechless tension as soldiers fight for their lives. Hans Zimmer’s haunting orchestral score only adds to the drama, working in sync with each passing gunshot. It’s a visual experience unlike any other. See Dunkirk on the biggest IMAX screen you can find.