Whatever happened at Dunkirk may be a part of World War II, but Dunkirk is not just a war film. Rather it is purely based on the event which in history is termed as the Dunkirk evacuation. The film conveniently sidesteps the political affairs in the German army, the halt order issued by a German High Command and the events that led to the Battle of Dunkirk.
The film begins with a group of British soldiers walking on the streets in Dunkirk when firing begins and they start running. While they are trying to escape, four to five get killed and only one (Fionn Whitehead) manages to escape to the beach of Dunkirk where he sees a humongous fleet of soldiers in multiple massive queues waiting to be rescued.
There are minimal dialogues, considering the emphasis on capturing the panic and helplessness of the soldiers on ground. The film also strays clear of character building as throughout you do not find yourself being attached to any one character. However, the characters fairly play their parts according to the situations they are in and on the whole contribute to a better understanding of the event.
While Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) and the British Royal Navy Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) show the grit and calm in a tense war situation as comes only with experience, young soldiers on the land are perfect examples of what drives humans to survival. George (Barry Keoghan) and Dawson’s son Collins (Jack Lowden) are the patriotic teenagers who want to save lives while Cillian Murphy plays the soldier who fears his life after he is shaken by the bombings at Dunkirk.
The film is told from three perspectives: land, sea and air with justice done to the cinematography of all the three. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema has done a brilliant work on the camera with aerial shots of the beach lined with soldiers, track shots of the vast expanse of the sea, and toppling and tumbling shots from the British Spitfires’ perspective. All of these add realism and heightened emotions to the action.
Multiple cuts in the film amount to a remarkable screenplay and editing that has shots dedicatedly capturing the situation and sentiments of various settings in sea, air and among the soldiers on land. While most of the scenes seem to be shot on-location with actual people and vessels (destroyers, pleasure crafts, lifeboats, merchant marine boats), use of visual effects is not completely disregarded. A beautiful shot in the film is the oil leak in sea from Mr Dawson’s pleasure craft that leads to fire as a German fighter-plane hits the water. Dawson’s boat just in time moves away from the explosion and there is a spectacular top shot of fire on the surface of the water. But since most of the movie is shot without the aid of VFX, it cannot be said whether this shot was effects or real.
There is some astounding work done on the soundtracks and praise ends there. The music of the film is the only sensational part of Dunkirk as I found nothing gripping about the story, moments and emotions created. In fact, it is music only that kept me hooked to the story, or rather helped me sit through the film. The portrayal of panic, helplessness, determination and hope didn’t seem to come out as well as the music did.
The movie is a very neutral depiction of the event at Dunkirk with nothing more and nothing less. The first half almost seems like a well made documentary with a typical Nolan fan wondering for his past magic. While people may defend the film by saying that the events are not puffed and are portrayed as they were, one cannot completely overlook the fact that a situation triggered due to an on-going war consists of heightened emotions and increased tension. Considering this, the movie seemed a rather dry portrayal of the incident.
Dunkirk is weaved well with a decent narration but somehow fails to generate any sort of emotional turmoil or even the excitement and curiosity of a climax.
About 70 percent of the film was shot on IMAX with the remaining footage filmed on 65mm film. So the film is best to be viewed on IMAX theatres. The movie will be presented in an aspect ratio of 1.43:1 — a towering, square image that can fill the entire field of view depending on where an audience member sits in the theatre.
Final verdict: Dunkirk is a film that you sit, watch and then forget about (as soon as you leave the cinema hall). But if you are a movie-making pedant, there is something great in store for you in the cinematography, screenplay and sound-editing.
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, produced by Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas, Dunkirk is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and hits theatres in India on 21 July, 2017.