It almost feels wrong to say that a film about a situation so grave – which involved so much loss of life – is utterly thrilling, but it just is. Nolan handles the subject matter with absolute respect, but his set pieces equal any modern fiction film for pacing, shocks and breathless adrenaline. Literally: there are times where it actually feels difficult to breathe.
Occasionally Nolan has been accused of being a little cold as a director. Dunkirk reveals the absolute opposite – it’s a big, beautiful, beating heart of a movie that draws you deeply into the lives of its many characters with skill, while avoiding any of Interstellar‘s sentimentality. But this isn’t grief tourism. It’s the moments of hope, heart and humanity which will make audiences sob the hardest.
The astonishing ensemble cast should be roundly praised too. Fionn Whitehead, the young soldier we begin the journey with, is terrific – vulnerable, but ceaseless in his will to survive; quiet but conveying volumes by his actions and expressions (and he should rightly expect to inherit a huge swathe of Styles’ fans after this).
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
Rylance is heartbreaking, Hardy stoic and heroic, Kenneth Branagh as the senior officer in charge of the stranded men is wonderfully brave and British, while Cillian Murphy’s shellshocked survivor is skittish and painful to watch.
And Harry Styles? It may reek of stunt casting, but if it was, it has completely paid off. Though also not given all that many lines, he’s sympathetic and charismatic as a young soldier clinging on to life in the worst of circumstances.
Styles, with Whitehead, deftly conveys the absolute luxury of being warm, dry, and not being shot at or drowned. Indeed, one of the many tear-jerking moments comes from Styles’ simple but incomparable joy at being given a beer (there’s context…).
Don’t like war films? Don’t like Nolan? Don’t care for Harry Styles? Don’t care. Go and see this anyway.
Dunkirk is the film Nolan has been building to his entire career. It’s his masterpiece, it’s the best film of the year so far, and it’s the one to beat come awards time.
Director: Christopher Nolan; Screenplay: Christopher Nolan; Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Kenneth Branagh; Running time: 106 minutes; Certificate: 12A