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