Christopher Nolan’s new war drama is one for the history books. To celebrate its release, we break down why it deserves the title of 2017’s finest film.
When it comes to movie releases, the hot, money-crammed month of July is usually reserved for storming franchise reboots and more comic book films than you can shake a stick at. But it’s not so surprising that Dunkirk, a dark, nerve-shredding new film about British WWII soldiers staring death in the face, bows this weekend in a prime popcorn-friendly slot. The man behind it is Christopher Nolan, one of the few directors who manages to make masterful creations that often break the $1 billion box office barrier. It’s a hard feat, not least for a man who pushes original ideas over mainstream conformity, and makes films that are all the better for it.
We may have barely approached the half-way point of the year, but it looks like we already have a hearty contender for the best film of 2017. Few films dare to subject multiplex moviegoers to the kind of hellish experience that this film manages to put you through. Intense and visceral, Dunkirk holds you in its icy grasp for 106 minutes and refuses to let go.
To prep you for the film’s worldwide release this weekend, we caught a glimpse of the film to explain why this will be the critical and box office hit of the summer.
Land, sea and air: this suspenseful story is told from multiple perspectives
The year is 1940, and on the beaches of Dunkirk, nearly half a million British WWII soldiers are waiting anxiously to be transported across the English channel to safety as German forces loom in the distance.
The story starts on land, following a young army private attempting to flee the town with his fellow troops back to Britain. In the air, two RAF fighter pilots are in charge of keeping German planes at bay, shooting them down as they approach the beach. While at sea, a mariner, his son and a rag-tag stowaway are heading towards Dunkirk by boat while everybody else heads in the opposite direction, hellbent on rescuing as many British soldiers as they can.
The film splits the elements into different stories that seamlessly come together by the time the credits roll. It’s this factor that makes it an unmistakable Christopher Nolan feature: ambitiously structured, with an expert execution.
This is peak Christopher Nolan
Believe the hype: Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s greatest film to date. Those familiar with The Dark Knight trilogy and his complex, sci-fi spun features that followed it might find themselves surprised by how simple his latest is. Instead of wrapping Dunkirk up in complex stories to make his film feel smart (let’s not lie, does anyone really understand what’s going on in Inception?), Nolan rids the film of every overused military movie trope that most tend to fall victim to.
By bringing 1500 extras on set and using real Spitfires, warships and explosions over CGI, Nolan creates a film that can be praised for allowing its dazzling visual elements to move the story forward rather than relying on dialogue. Barely a memorable line is spoken in the film. Instead, you’ll remember Dunkirk by the way you feel once it’s over: shocked, on edge and gasping for breath.
Hans Zimmer’s score (and the sound design) is nerve-shredding
How often is it that you watch a film and fear for your life at the same time? By avoiding clunky speeches and cringeworthy heroic dialogue, Nolan and his supervising sound designer Richard King have let the whistle of bombs, explosions and hail of bullets do the real talking. Watching this in theatres feels as though you’re being truly transported to wartime Dunkirk, in amongst the action with the film’s petrified characters.
Hans Zimmer’s simmering score heightens that gruelling tension, and it can be heard in practically every scene, bubbling under and waiting to blow when the conflict kicks off. As a result, it gets really scary on the rare occasion things get quiet. Suddenly, you’re aware of the danger hurtling towards the soldiers on screen.
It demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible
Chances are, the vast majority of people will be seeing Dunkirk in its easiest and most available format: on a digital projector at the multiplex. Of course, it’s a stellar enough film to stand on its own two feet on any screen, but if there was ever a chance to fork out an extra few dollars to see a film truly come to life (don’t bother with the overdone 3D bullshit), now is the time.
Nolan himself has said that the best way to experience the movie is on an IMAX screen in 70mm. Sound geeky? Well, this video explains why Nolan felt the IMAX experience was important. We can speak from first hand experience that Nolan’s wishes to make a film feel like “VR without the goggles” is a feat he pulls off perfectly.
The fresh and seasoned cast members kill it, Harry Styles included
While most directors would settle for the reliability of a man in his late-20s pretending to be a teenager, Chris Nolan wanted to make this true story feel as realistic as possible. As a result, most of the younger cast members are newcomers who convincingly act as though this suspenseful situation was unfolding before their eyes.
Props go to Fionn Whitehead in particular, a 19-year-old British boy who the film follows the closest. Being dragged from the streets to the beaches, from ships into the sea, he’s the focal point of Dunkirk and owns every one of his scenes. You might be surprised to discover that former One Directioner Harry Styles manages to shine in his few key moments too, and is gifted with the delivery of the films only “F bombs”.
He might have left the growling Bane voice behind, but Tom Hardy continues to hide behind a mask much like he did in The Dark Knight Rises. It’s an equally riveting performance though; one that sees him assume the hero role rather than the dastardly villain.
Now head back in time and watch Nolan's first ever short film, "Doodlebug" here.