When I first heard about the intention to release Dunkirk I wasn’t overly excited about the film. As someone who has never really been a fan of the ‘war film’ genre, it just seemed like another over priced blockbuster that would come and go rather quickly. It wasn’t something that I would have expected to receive so much attention, aside from the fact that it had a few big stars in its main cast. But then the first theatrical trailer was released, and my whole mindset towards the film changed.
Something about the trailer hooked me instantly. I’m not sure if it was the cinematography, the lighting, the direction or simply the fact that Hans Zimmer was in charge of the score, but I was ready, excited and found myself counting down the days until its release.
I wasn’t intending on going to see the film on the day of its release, but it just so happened that both myself and Rob were free and wanted to do something on a Friday night to wind down from the week. Following much deliberation of what format we should watch it in, we chose to go with the standard screening over IMAX simply because it was cheaper and the screening times worked better for the both of us.
One thing I would suggest is that if you do have the opportunity to go and see Dunkirk in IMAX, purely because the film was largely shot to be viewed in this format and is one of few films which focuses on shooting specifically on IMAX stock. Director, Christopher Nolan, has discussed in interviews that the entire film is shot on large-format film photography and this is something that very few people have actually done before. Nolan even argues that Dunkirk represents a mash up of all the experiences we have seen in IMAX cinema previously and the film will be an extremely exciting experience in IMAX theatres.
However, having seen the film in standard cinema format I can safely say that you still get an exciting thrill ride of an experience seeing it in your bog standard cinema. The quality of the camera definitely contributes towards the quality of the film, but there are so many additional factors that, if removed, would turn this film from a thrilling war story of survival to a money guzzling over the top box office flop.
The main thing that stood out to me was the music (*insert Hans Zimmer praise here*). Listening to the score for two hours alone would be enough to make me feel as tense as I did throughout the entire film, and in all honesty the actors could have not said a word throughout and it would still have communicated the narrative perfectly – in fact, the script itself was written to complement the score, and not the other way around. It truly was beautifully crafted and the perfect addition to the film. I truly believe that only someone with as much experience and talent as Hans Zimmer could have brought the raw emotion to life. It blends in with the visuals perfectly and you truly feel the struggle and the anxiety of the characters on the screen and the many, many real lives they represent.
Visually I am incredibly impressed with how the team used water throughout the film. There are a fair number of scenes that I can see becoming listed as iconic in years to come. The sea itself is a primary character, as it will always be in the retellings of the Dunkirk tragedy, but I felt a sense of raw brutality and the sheer power of the force of nature. It is almost on par with the Nazi attackers that are trying to wipe out the British troops in terms of villainy.
There is one particular scene where (*spoiler for those who aren’t aware of this massive historical event*) a boat is sinking incredibly rapidly after being hit by a torpedo. We don’t have a lengthy shot of the hull of the boat filling with water while panic erupts – it’s quick and it’s dark and it’s unclear what is actually going on. We know that there’s only going to be a few survivors, but we root for the soldiers anyway because we don’t want the sea to win another battle against the troops.
The fact that we never really see clearly what is happening or who even stands a chance of escaping the sinking vessel makes this particular scene stand out for me. I am actually terrified of both enclosed spaces, boats and the sea, but normally I wouldn’t be scared by a scene like this because I’d know it wasn’t real. In contrast, I knew this scene wasn’t real but it felt it. It felt real in a way that I’ve not experienced for a long time.
One massive stand out for me was, weirdly, Harry Styles. Part of me expected him to stick out like a sore thumb due to his lack of acting background, but honestly, I feel like I should apologise for doubting him. Naturally, casting someone of his celebrity status was always going to raise some suspicion from film critics and the general public, but I can honestly say he blends in with the professionals seamlessly. I’m planning on going to see the film again with my Dad in a couple of weeks and I’ve actually set him the task of spotting who Harry Styles is because while he knows who he is he doesn’t actually know what he looks like. I think this will be the case for a lot of people. So I would definitely say that he does not damage the film in any way – if anything he gives an incredibly strong performance and his character is incredibly relatable.
I could write for hours and hours about the many positives of this film, but I also don’t want to over-analyze for those who do not want spoilers – and by that, I mean spoilers in the production sense. With films that focus on historical events, especially those where people involved or the relatives of people involved could still be alive, there is always a danger of getting it right. As someone who approached the film with a completely non-historic brain, I would give Dunkirk two thumbs up for the portrayal of human nature and survival instinct. I approached with my film studies brain firmly switched on, and I can honestly say this is one of the best films I’ve ever watched. If you get the chance to go and see it, I would definitely recommend.
Have you managed to catch the film yet? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!
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