Dunkirk

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Dunkirk

A powerful document of Britain's greatest military defeat, told in stark terms by 'Dark Knight' director Christopher Nolan

You might already know how the evacuation of Dunkirk in May 1940 turned out: how over 300,000 mainly British troops escaped from the beach and harbour of a northern French port while being bombarded by the Nazis. But the power of Christopher Nolan’sharrowing, unusual war film is that it tries hard, with real success, not to make any of this feel like just another war movie. Instead there’s a strong sense of this bloody, strange event unfolding in the unknowable way that those on the ground might have experienced it. It’s awe-inspiring and alienating, perhaps as it should be.

At less than two hours (brief for the director of ‘The Dark Knight’ films and ‘Interstellar’) and keeping dialogue to a bare minimum, ‘Dunkirk’ gives us a short, sharp dose of the oddness and horror of war, dropping us right into the fray. It’s a staggering feat of immersive terror, blessed with such knockout photography that it has to be seen on a massive screen if at all possible (Nolan shot the film in two large formats, Imax and 65mm). It looks, feels and sounds like a nightmare, balancing naked suffering (drowning, shooting, shelling, crashing, burning) with a strong hint of otherworldliness: Nazi propaganda leaflets spookily dropping from the sky; strange foam washing up on the sand, dislocating aerial shots of sea meeting land.

Nolan gives us three interlocking chapters, offering three different perspectives. There’s ‘The Mole, One Week’, taking place on the harbour wall from which thousands were rescued and where we see a commander (Kenneth Branagh) trying to make sense of the disaster. There’s ‘The Sea, One Day’, where we see civilian sailor Mark Rylance set off from the English south coast. And there’s ‘The Air, One Hour’, in which RAF pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) engages in dogfights with the Luftwaffe. There are other characters – young troops on the beach played Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles; a disturbed soldier (Cillian Murphy) rescued from the hull of a sinking warship. Yet as much as these familiar faces give us something to grab onto, this is a war film without heroes or a straightforward story. The event is the story. If that means some of the film feels chilly, a little distant, it’s at the expense of easy sympathy and simplistic drama.

Churchill called Dunkirk a ‘miracle’. The newspapers tagged it a ‘triumph’. Nolan resists any punch-the-air celebration. Hans Zimmer’s score scrapes away at you throughout, piling unease on unease before flirting with Elgar’s war remembrance anthem ‘Nimrod’ and backing off, as if embarrassed. Questions are posed about the government: a survivor asks an RAF pilot back home, ‘Where the hell were you?’. The older generation owes a debt to the young: ‘That old bloke wouldn’t even look us in the eye,’ observes one soldier. We hear Churchill’s ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech, but the words come from the mouth of a dazed soldier, not the PM. There’s no glory here, just survival. It’s a sombre tribute that makes a distant war feel uncomfortably present.

By: Dave Calhoun

Posted:

Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday July 21 2017
Duration: 106 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenwriter: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Tom Hardy
Mark Rylance
Harry Styles
Kenneth Branagh
Cillian Murphy

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Tastemaker

As a huge Christopher Nolan and Mark Rylance fan, this was a must-watch for me. And I was not disappointed. Having said that, I preferred the other Nolan films but this was still a very enjoyable watch. In fact, the amazing cinematography and sound kept me at the edge of my seat. The star-studded cast (to be fair even the one-direction guy was alright) was perfect and the story-line was simple and action-packed. This film HAS to be watched on the big screen so pick IMAX if you can. 

Tastemaker

Tension levels over 9000. Pretty much from start to finish. I was gripping Mr. Moose's hand the entire time. Obviously Christopher Nolan did not (and has stated as such) did not base the film on real life accounts of Dunkirk, we all know Dunkirk happened and it was not a good time for anyone involved in it. Operation Dynamo, the plan hatched to get the boys home, seemed half-cocked and a bit batty, but dear god how British is it. So British. 


LIke mentioned below, not a lot of speaking, but when it is done its meaningful. It's heartbreaking to see the troops themselves turn on each other it times of high anxiety, yet turn around the next minute and fight with each other to stay alive.  


Quite loud (but that adds to the stress!) but wow such an enjoyable and important film to watch. This was one of the defining moments of the War, because it kept Britain in the game.. who knows what the outcome would have been if 'Little Boats' was a failure?

tastemaker

‘Dunkirk’ by director Christopher Nolan is a filmic triumph. We are all aware of the events of May 1940, when advancing German troops trapped British, French and Belgium soldiers on the beaches in the French town of Dunkirk. 330,000 troops were evacuated and saved using military and civilian vessels and it has since gone down as one of the biggest life saving military operations of the Second World War. With this in mind, I was initially uncertain as to whether Nolan would deliver the gravitas whilst upholding the respect the situation deserved.

From the very beginning of this docu-drama style film, Nolan creates a character for the audience to adopt. You have no choice, you are not there to observe but instead play a part, knowing that sooner or later you would be running for your life. It opens on an eerily quiet street in Dunkirk. All that is heard is the fluttering of Nazi propaganda leaflet’s falling around a few men as they try to find refuge. It should be an idyllic town apart from their isolation and uniforms hinting at the suffering to come. Nolan builds tension by creating uncertainty, one solder slurps water from a hose as another tries to steal a cigarette from an open window. Hans Zimmer‘s musical score cuts through this deathly silence, and the tranquillity is shattered by gunfire and the men running for their lives. I felt I had a responsibility to get to the end of the film alive. I was one of the men, constantly looking for how to survive the ever changing situations I found myself in. Nolan repeatedly placed the audience in suffocating locations whether it was a Spitfire’s cockpit, the hull of a boat that is being shot at, or a sinking ship. He had you sitting on the edge of your seat before cutting away to a breath-taking aerial sweep of the beaches or sea, giving just a second’s relief, before the next startling ‘edge of your seat’ moment commenced.

The film is presented in three overlapping acts. ‘The Mole One Week’ where hundreds of wounded troops board a medical ship on the harbour dockside, the commander (Kenneth Branagh) stands resolutely steadfast at the quayside trying to make sense of the situation. ‘The Sea One Day’ gives a voice to all the innocent civilians who risked their lives sailing their boats, no matter how big or small, to bring home troops. Mark Rylance offers a very astute and knowledgeable character called Mr Dawson who along with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s friend saves a soldier (Cillian Murphy) who’s suffering from the ravages of war. Finally Ferrier (Tom Hardy) is sent to dogfight the Luftwaffe in the act ‘The Air One Hour’, reminding us the war was fought as much in the air as it was on the sea and land.  

For a film that commands so much attention, it’s short, only 105 minutes. The dialogue is minimal but this does not detract from the action taking place. What some may say this film lacks in length, it makes up with talent. The casting is on point, if a little surprising with Harry Styles amongst the cast, giving a thoughtful, but in no way scene stealing performance as Alex. There is no specific lead, but instead the film moves from one moment to the next focusing on historical accuracy rather than character driven narrative. Nolan filmed it almost entirely using IMAX cameras and it is understandable as his filmic choices of breath-taking longshots demand this level of detail.

‘Dunkirk’ is on another level of war films, it needs to be watched not only for the sheer thrilling pleasure but for the sobering realisation that if those men did not escape, many more lives would have been lost.


I'm not usually a fan of war movies, but I am a big fan of Christopher Nolan so this was a must see for me. 

The movie did a great job of bringing the war to life, but didn't rely on graphic images of gore to build tension. While it can be easy to see soldiers as just a faceless mass, through storytelling, Nolan makes the audience see the soldiers as individuals rather than a number.

If you're in the mood for two hours of high tension and a little history lesson, do yourself a favor and see Dunkirk in theaters. 


tastemaker

Exceptional, firstly the sound track is epic, everything about this film is not what we have grown to expect from war films, it is visually breathtaking, and the cinematography speaks for itself with limited dialogue and background story.

Highly recommend. 


tastemaker

This is a powerful film in that it creates a tension throughout that does not let up which I assume is fair as I doubt being in war is ever not tense.

You don't really get any back story on characters so it's not a tear jerker despite who dies as although you witness characters being killed off and you feel shocked and saddened by it you never really got to know them deeply.

There were a few ridiculous moments in it like the pilot who seems to glide around for an insanely long amount of time after his engine cuts out. Not plausible me thinks.

The most annoying thing was the soundtrack. It's loud and tense and does not let up. I heard severely people leaving the cinema remarking that they had headaches and I also left with a pounding head. Not good.

The film looks amazing though.

tastemaker

Some have criticised Dunkirk for being "Justin one long opening scene," but they're misunderstanding the intended execution that makes this film so original. This film grabs you from the opening minute and never lets go, with tension added to tension (and then even more) until the very end.

Rather than focus on a standard 'hero' narrative, the film flits between different perspectives moments across land, sea and air during the evacuation of Dunkirk. It does mean that you miss out on much character development (the exception being the sea story which by the end of the film had me in tears), but as the camera follows desperate soldiers too busy dodging bombs and gunfire to talk you feel as if you're one of them yourself. This is truly immersive cinema and the cinematography is amongst the best I've ever seen.

my only criticism would be the scale of the evacuation didn't translate well enough. I went to the film knowing absolutely nothing about the real-life Dunkirk, but since watching have discovered the evacuation involved hundreds of thousands of people (whereas coming out of the film I'd have guessed it was simply hundreds). There was a line by a character covering the number but it didn't correlate with what I saw. That's literally all I can criticise.

The horror and bravery of what happened at Dunkirk will stay with me a long time. I loved this film.

tastemaker

My idea of Dunkirk comes from the conventional "British War film cliche" I imagined stiff upper lips, and a lot of British selflessness.

I should have expected more from Christopher Nolan, & he delivers a lot more. I did feel part of the real horror of the situation, and I left the film understanding a lot more of the complexity of the withdrawal.
Tastemaker

I’ve been waiting for this film to come out for well over a year – the trailers have always looked fantastic, and the storyline was bound to be gripping.


The film tells the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk, whilst under fire from Nazi war planes. Tom Hardy plays a British pilot, trying to down the German planes, all whilst having his face totally covered by his equipment…. I say this, because earlier this week, there was an article about why he always has his face covered in films!

I think his face looks alright when it’s on show too, though…


Harry Styles played the part of Alex in the film – a British soldier also trying to escape from Dunkirk. Following the randomness of Ed Sheeran in GoT, I was a bit dubious about his involvement in the film….but the kid can act! He didn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and he did pretty well. Clever move by the casting directors, to ensure the film would appeal to a younger audience.


Overall, the graphics were great, and it really made you feel for these soldiers – how awful the conditions would’ve been in Dunkirk…cold, freezing, soaking, exhausted…. it sounds and looks like hell.

Tastemaker

I never thought I'd be the type to rush to the opening week of a war epic and yet I've been on the edge of my seat waiting for this one since its teaser trailer well over a year past. I'm a big fan of Christopher Nolan's inventive, interwoven story lines and Hans Zimmer's eerie, electrifying soundtracks so I had a hunch that this duo might just ace an adaptation of this horrifying true story; thankfully I wasn't wrong!


I'm a fit and healthy human being but I feared for my blood pressure during this film. The plot follows soldiers through land, sea and sky and tension seems to build from one scene to the next without allowing time to breathe - I had to make a conscious effort to exhale on more than one occasion. Despite minimal dialogue I was captivated from start to finish and that's in no small part due to some surprisingly stellar performances by newcomer protagonist Fionn Whitehead, old favourite Mark Rylance and even a debut appearance from a certain teen heartthrob. Another thing the screenplay purposefully omits is any kind of emblematic gore that is usually so prevalent in depictions of warfare. I can promise that you'll feel no more at ease with the unfolding of events, nor any less disillusioned with the horror of them when you leave. I thought it a refreshing and bold move.


Pick a big screen, book in and belt up when the time arrives. 

tastemaker

This film was absolutely beautifully shot - I would definitely recommend coughing up the money to see it how Nolan intended. It was edge-of-your-seat, nerve inducing stuff and the constant noise of ticking in the music score  throughout really built up the intensity and the feel of desperation of the surviving soldiers. The lack of dialogue helped this along nicely and let the shots and the music play a forefront in the story. I'm glad there was less dialogue really, because the jumps between stories would have been made more confusing.


At some points I didn't understand why certain jumps and cuts were made and felt that scenes could have just been carried on for a little longer instead of jumping right back to the beginning of the action again from a different perspective, but its easy to get over when there is so much going on!


I loved the use of original machinery and it actually being shot on location helped to build up to the ultimate relief and joy of seeing those boats on the horizon - there wasn't a dry eye in the house! It really helped you to feel what the soldiers were feeling.


It was no Band of Brothers - but it is still worth a watch!

tastemaker

I've been waiting for Dunkirk. In fact, there's quite a lot of waiting in this film: waiting on the beaches, waiting for the ships, waiting for the fishing boats, waiting to be shot and waiting to see what happens next. I was almost uncomfortably on the edge of my seat watching the soldiers waiting on the beaches. An oh-so-open target for the German planes. On the edge of my seat watching the air battles between us and them. Uncomfortably gripped, watching the sea story unfold. I almost felt as if I was with them. Not an easy feeling. There are big names - Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance. Harry Styles does alright!

Haunting music accompanied harrowing scenes but then I expect nothing less from the great Hans Zimmer. One week, one day, one hour. It all must have felt like an eternity.

tastemaker

I have to agree Dunkirk is a beautifully shot film.  I found it very immersive and I felt like I was there almost ducking from the planes diving and the bombs dropping as I sat in my seat.


I went to see the 70mm version at Leicester Square Odeon and was handed a film strip featuring scenes from the film on leaving.  This cinema is massive and is used for actual premieres for the stars, so I was surprised to find the audio was a little too loud to comprehend the dialogue throughout.  However, after speaking to some other people that have seen this film elsewhere this seems to be a common factor in the actual film that it isn't always easy to understand what they are saying.  


Critics and friends alike say that the dialogue isn't important in the film, but this was part of the issue for me as I felt a bit detached from it all.  I really enjoy a story where I feel more connected to the individual characters.  It did give me a greater understanding of the events that occurred during this time, one that I didn't really learn much about at school.

tastemaker

I was expecting Dunkirk to be a deep dive into one or two characters. I thought we were going to get a long description of their background, experiences and really feel emotionally connected to them. Instead, I was quite surprised to see the focus move between the three groups and their differing experiences on sea, air and land. But I liked it. I thought it gave a more honest focus on the events, instead of over dramatizing particular characters or individuals. I liked seeing the three perspectives and their interlocking nature.

I was initially skeptical about Harry Styles' celebrity cameo, but he was very good. He has definitely established himself in the acting world.

I would recommend Dunkirk. It has an appeal across generations and is a moment in history that should never be forgotten. I would also recommend seeing it at the Barbican on a Monday - the tickets are super cheap! 



“Flash, bang, wallop, what a picture”. I couldn’t resist lifting this phrase from the stage musical "Half a Sixpence", and changing the context completely.

It pretty well describes this cinemagoer’s experience at the BFI IMAX. Having been entreated by all the critics not to miss the film in 70mm form I made my maiden trip to the Waterloo venue. That’s the building that looks like a giant circular biscuit barrel from the outside.

I certainly didn’t regret coughing up £15.50 (Old Git’s price) for a seat to see the enormous crystal-clear screen and to hear the overpowering sound-track which at times must have rivalled the decibels generated at Operation Dynamo, as it was called, itself.

But to be fair to writer and director Christopher Nolan’s splendid new film, there were also moments of extreme pathos and subtlety which can unexpectedly occur in the heat of battle.

Mr Nolan constructed the film in three sections - land, sea and air - all running concurrently and managed to recruit some stellar names like Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy to grace his work.

There are so many talking points surrounding the Dunkirk evacuation that to enter discussion here would only put off any potential readers of this little review.

The story is so well covered now - the enormous bravery of all the participants, especially the small merchant boats which rallied to the cause, the disputed role of the RAF and more but the fact that 338,000 troops were repatriated compared to the very small number estimated at the start must have been a big turning point in World War II.

I emerged shakily into the south London daylight suffering severe battle fatigue but mightily impressed by a movie which can only be called a classic.

One could cast doubts on Nolan’s epic by wondering whether it would have looked and sounded as good in a less impressive digital format. Probably not…but don’t risk disappointment and watch it in IMAX format if you can.

tastemaker

I don't see why everybody's raving about Dunkirk to the extent that they are.


There are some interesting ideas, yes. For one, Nolan is a great director, so we expect nothing less than a captivating hour and a half in the cinema - and this can be confidently said of Dunkirk. I really enjoy the fact that there's not really a main character, but unfortunately he doesn't stick to this idea the whole way through. The more we hear characters trying to explain their back stories the less likeable they seem. Tommy, handsome as he is, becomes vulnerable and weak in our eyes when we roll around to the 'he saved my life scene'. George is a sad, pathetic excuse of a character, and the little back story provided for him about wanting to be in the local newspaper (and then making it! Hallelujah!) just makes it worse.


On the other hand, Tom Hardy's silent pilot is (obiviously) perfect. Mr Dawson is another pleasant character, little bit on the cheesy side but passeable. But, despite how much I like Kenneth Brannagh, he is totally wrong for a serious part. I swear he is always smiling. (How good was he as Lockhart though?).


Visually, Dunkirk is pleasing, and there is a nice amount of action to keep you interested. Would I ever watch it again though? Nah. To be honest, Dunkirk falls a bit flat on the story side and I don't feel there's that large sense of originality that everybody seems to see. 

tastemaker

I wasn't sure what to expect though obviously I'd read the critic's reviews.  This film has an unusual slant.  A lack of dialogue at the beginning of the film, we know the story but how exactly is it being told?  Then we realise that the 3 main perspectives are being played out:  from land, sea and air, and each one is harrowing, unfair, brave and downright nasty.  It leaves you time to think and question.  Was this really only 70 years ago? How in all conscience could German bombers target our first aid ships?  Do governments really only consider us a means to an end?  And why on earth do we never learn?    Not a story in the conventional sense but certainly thought-provoking.

tastemaker

Christopher Nolan once again pushes the boundaries of an established genre in this complex and visually stunning war epic


Amongst the chaos and endless crowds, the film's focus is on a group of foot soldiers desperately trying to escape the treacherous beach, RAF pilots defending from the air, a Navy commander ushering troops onto rapidly disappearing ships, and a civilian, who sails across the Channel to save as many souls as his small boat can carry. 


The story is not new, as familiar to us from the history books as it is from various retellings on screen, but Nolan's approach to the subject matter is incredibly refreshing. Using a non-linear narrative, the film jumps between storylines, giving visual hints as to their conclusions along the way. Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography is superb, as is Hans Zimmer's tense and powerful score. 


Building on this strong underpinning are some absolutely stellar performances, including those of Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Tom Hardy and, an at-first unrecognisable, Cillian Murphy. Sure, there's a cliché here and there, and of course there will be some issues with its historical accuracy, but "Dunkirk" is a terrific film that helps to convey the horror of this event, the scale of its tragedy and the bravery of those involved. 

tastemaker

Amazingly shot, I have never see a war movie like this before. It really takes you in and for the 1.5h you feel like you are at war. Well, is that good or bad, it depends the way you look at it. I was definitely slightly anxious throughout the whole movie and wasn't able to sleep for a good few hours after. The story is ok, it doesn't really have a deep story line. It just portraits the facts in the way that has never been done before.

Tastemaker

The film plunges you into action right away with impressive panoramic images of war in the opening few scenes, which go on without much dialogue. The soundtrack is beautifully done and is perfectly paired with moments of tension or relief. I thought it was breathtaking and inspiring to watch. And Harry Styles’ acting was far from an Ed Sheeran moment.

tastemaker

As I write this review, it is with fingers thats nails have been bitten down to the skin. Throughout the film, my hands were constantly covering my mouth or strapped to my head as I watched in stress and anxiety at what these men had to endure just to survive. The score from Hans Zimmer kept your heart racing from each gunshot to the next bomb dropping. To see so many people die so senselessly was heart breaking yet to see the men and women who risked their lives to save those trapped on an endless beach across the English channel was beyond inspiring. Few of us can even begin to imagine the horrors of war but Christopher Nolan's exquisite film really brings to light just how savage humans can be. Watching the film in IMAX completely draws you into the world of the film, at times making you feel sick when the camera twists and turns emulating a fighter plane. For a war film, it was rather short, making me quite surprised when it ended, thinking after Nolan's past films that it could be a long one. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised by Harry Styles as he makes his on screen debut with a brave performance. There are quite a few familiar faces amongst the brave troops and some really beautiful characters considering the lack of dialogue. 

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Pointless, painfully loud war porn. Save your $ and your hearing. War is hell. Golly gee. Boycott BS.