Dunkirk is all action and sparse dialogue.
Nolan’s war epic is a true cinematic feat making use of every special and visual effect to create a harrowing snapshot of the British Army’s retreat from Dunkirk.
Remember that chilling scene from Atonement when James McAvoy is walking along the beach at Dunkirk, this is basically a two hour version of that.
He gives us a whole host of characters the young soldiers trying to escape the beach, the officers trying to get them off it, the civilians heading over in their small fishing boat to aid the rescue attempt, the pilots fighting the Germans trying to sink the ships, as the film jumps from one scene to the next the suspense becomes almost unbearable.
It paints a terribly bleak picture of war, we watch planes go down, ships sink and bodies wash up on shore. The task seems to be hopeless. The hopelessness and despair is most poignantly shown in one scene where the three of our young protagonists sit on the beach and watch as a soldier walks into the ocean and disappear not one of them tries to stop him, says a word or even reacts.
The score for this film is truly the star, with so little dialogue it is the music that adds the emotional element to the scenes.
What it lacked though was any form of character development. Yes the horrors depicted made you feel for these men, you wanted them to make it home, but where was home? What was home? Who was waiting for them? And I’m sorry but I just could not see Harry Styles as being anything other than that annoying member of a boy band.
There was the odd moment that tugged the heart, Cillian Murphy’s fevered exclamation that he “can’t go back” the young soldiers scrabbling up on deck because they “just want to see the cliffs” and perhaps the most powerful moment of the film when one of our returning soldiers reads Churchill’s famous speech out loud from the paper whilst we see images of each character returning home.
Technically I cannot fault this film I’ll be very surprised if it does not pick up awards in the technical categories but it does not have any heart. I always want to come away from a film feeling something but here I did not, my eyes remained dry which considering the subject is surprising. Disappointingly my least favourite of the nominees so far.