Thinking of war film, what we usually recall is a gory and graphic realistic depiction of the battlefield topped with powerful emotionally driven script which at the end makes us sad and sorry for the victims and the ones involved. Films like Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Hacksaw Ridge or Saving Private Ryan pop to the mind after reading this description. Dunkirk is nothing like this. It is an exquisite depiction of what happened on and between the two shores of France and Britain during those nerve breaking days, when the priority of war was succeeded by a more sensitive task, survival. We don’t see the victories that these soldiers might have won, but we see something that a soldier must be humiliated from. Being rescued rather than rescuing. Once, the sensitivity of the topic is realised, all the ear-blowing bullets and fights mellow down to the basic instinct of survival.
No soldier is special here and everyone are heroes of themselves. Someone might have saved the day, but at the end it all relies on fate and hope by which they are driven. The underdevelopment of characters in this film has been fired upon by many. If the plot would have been shifted often to the back-stories of some characters, for the essential emotional weigh-in we would not have had the hang-on-to-your-seats experience of war and required continuity to stich the three storylines together. It would have been a great mess and no fun to watch. When the question is of survival it doesn’t matter what kind of childhood you had or what happened in the war. Everyone is their own leader and is equal.
When a film is more leaning on the visuals than the dialogue then brilliant cinematography is a must. Hoyte van Hoytema teamed up with Nolan once again and delivered something which might not essentially be breathtaking but it does please the eye in the chaos of the evacuation. But an element that’s unmissable as it makes it’s presence or absence felt in every scene is the music. Hans Zimmer has accomplished once more the power of music in creating cinematic climaxes and adding power to the scene. The music actually plays the key role in stiching all the storylines of different time lines together such that we can get a sense of continuity and take in the emotions and depth of war rather than trying to piece the plot together all the time. The music doesn’t deliver a build up just to get our hearts racing and then mock us later. No. The bulid up actually translates into what it was intended for. The best way to explain this is that it is absolutely not like the use of music in thriller films in which the musical build up adds up to nothing.
Being a Nolan film, the plot is really meticulously placed and structured and you won’t find one scene which doesn’t hold much importance in all. So no filler scenes and dialogues. Speaking of dialogues which are minimal, they are used only when necessary like to explain what’s going on on the shore or what’s the status of the war. But looking at the narrow runtime of the film, the dialogue seems just enough and not very little as people say. And this little runtime seemed a bit too little for a complex war film. So scenes could have been added or prolonged but that might have ruined the inwhole experience if not done carefully. This film is best experienced when watched in a single continuous screening and the short run time is an aid to the cause. There couldn’t have been a better way to make this masterpiece.
All in all the tension of the scenes is absolutely amazing, the sound design and mixing is aiming for an Oscar, the lack of dialogue and the visual drama really play well when handled by a good director like Nolan and his idea of using real materials and locations is really impressive given the war scenario. All this indicates that it is a absolutely stunning war film only that it isn’t a war film and it doesn’t try to be. Nolan has once again achieved doing something in a very untraditional manner and has reached the ranks of a masterpiece and himself as one of the best directors we have had. A 98 on RT might really not have been too much but the current 92 is a bit less, be the judge and figure out how wonderful it really is.