‘Dunkirk’ Review: Rousing experience, immersive atmosphere

DUNKIRK. Harry Styles makes his film debut in Christopher Nolan's 'Dunkirk,' as one of the British soldiers. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

DUNKIRK. Harry Styles makes his film debut in Christopher Nolan's 'Dunkirk,' as one of the British soldiers. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Winston Churchill’s famous ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech caps Christopher Nolan’s rousingly experiential take on the Battle of Dunkirk.

What is particularly striking about the speech as used in the film is how it is not delivered by Churchill, who feels like an invisible presence throughout a film where hope is a scarcity, but read without passion by a survivor aboard a train. After a series of events that put a spotlight not only on the courage, compassion, and grit but also cowardice, opportunism and luck that are all undeniable elements of warfare, the speech becomes pregnant with cynicism.

 

Pieces in a puzzle

In a way, Dunkirk might be better precisely because of its dubious insistence on making its characters feel like mere pieces in an expansive puzzle. By denying any of the characters both their histories and futures, Nolan turns his film into a personal meditation on war and not a false journal of fictional or real soldiers, whose individual stories can be carelessly politicized to serve personal purposes. (READ: Harry Styles shines in debut film 'Dunkirk')

Only a few of the characters truly stand out.

Upcoming actor Fionn Whitehead plays Tommy, one of the soldiers in 'Dunkirk.'  Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Upcoming actor Fionn Whitehead plays Tommy, one of the soldiers in 'Dunkirk.' Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

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There is the father (Mark Rylance) who sets sail from Britain to the beaches of Dunkirk with his son and another teenager to rescue as many surviving soldiers as possible. There is the private (Fionn Whitehead) who will do anything to find a ship back home. There is also the pilot (Tom Hardy) who leads in defending retreating sea vessels from German air raids.

The rest however feel like random faces in a sea of wartime strife, all adding to a film that stands out not because of its narrative force but because of its ability to ape an atmosphere that very few fictional films can portray with both accuracy and urgency.

Technical feat

Take away its narrative shortages and its astounding intention to create a purely immersive experience and what’s left is a piece of work that is so astonishingly crafted. 

Tom Hardy plays a pilot in 'Dunkirk.' Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Tom Hardy plays a pilot in 'Dunkirk.' Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Each frame is captivating. Each spirited boom of Hans Zimmer’s aptly dissonant score adds heft and imminence to the scene. Everything is close to being precise, turning Dunkirk, with its endeavor to provide varying perspectives through a triptych of tales told close to real time, into a well-oiled engine of graduating tensions and dizzying emotions.

Dunkirk may be lacking in concrete characters. It may be deficient in emotions that are unrelated to immediate suspense and pressure. Its vital anti-war stance may be too veiled in the covert cynicism that counters the maudlin heroics. It is however impossible to deny the inherent impressiveness of its existence.

Strengths and weaknesses

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

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This is truly a Nolan film, bearing without any pretensions his strengths and weaknesses, which isn’t a bad thing.

It came at the right time when the director is at the height of his powers and popularity, and very capable of tweaking the blockbuster machinery to suit a personal vision. – Rappler.com

 

Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.