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Dunkirk Movie Review: It Is Beyond Any Critical Evaluation!

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Starring: Fion Whitehead, Mark  Rylance, Kenneth Branagh

Directed by: Chistopher Nolan

Rating: *****(5 stars)

A very strange incident occurred at the end  my viewing of  Dunkirk in a packed theatre.

The audience clapped when the  director’s name appeared during the end-credits.

This  is a tribute to both the amazing magnetic attraction of the cinema of Christopher Nolan, as well as the formidable reputation that his latest creation has acquired within days of its release.

Dunkirk is much more than a war epic. To describe it as a masterpiece would be inadequate. To  not describe  it as one would  be unjust. There have been many monumental works on the wages of war,  but none that takes us so deep  into the bowels of battle .

The camera in Dunkirk is no more an objective eyewitness to the goings-on.Abandoning all pretensions to  objectivity Nolan and his extraordinary Dutch-Swedish  cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema( who earlier shot Nolan’s outerspace gem Interstellar) penetrate right into the heart of the battle.

This is war. The World War 2, to be precise. Thousands of soldiers are stranded off the coast of France on  an island called Dunkirk. This is the where the action begins. There is  no linear thought-process at work way, no way we can pin down themes and plot points where we  can applaud the director’s vision. Damn, Hans Zimmer’s music is no help. The sounds Zimmer creates are that of pounding peril and imminent catastrophe.

No matter what, Dunkirk won’t romanticize war.Shivering shaking moaning in nervousness and pain the soldiers only want to get home.

Nolan sweeps us into a saga so immense in its ramification,  so profoundly immersive that we are left with no  choice  but to be dragged along into a crisis that we  hope would never repeat itself. The narrative is non-linear. There is no room in Dunkirk for cinematic niceties. And yet the film moves at a powerfully persuasive momentum  creating  images of war’s ravages which are like  nothing we’ve seen before except maybe in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan which conveyed the same immediacy of war  .

But Dunkirk goes beyond  Saving Private Ryan. It moves from land to sea to air , capturing the pain and catastrophe in  swirling motion of selfabnegation. The narrative surrenders to the actual incidents of evacuation to the extent that the director no longer controls the plot. Nolan lets the crisis speak  for itself.

The actors are not in this for fame. You would find  it hard to recognize most of them.There are no protagonists, only reluctant heroes.VERY reluctant heroes. The ordeal of evacuation and survival begins with a painfully young British soldier (Fion Whitehead) dodging bullets and rushing to the shore where he encounters  hundreds of soldiers waiting to be rescued.

If he wanted Nolan could have devoted himself to the task of creating epic war-time images. He spares us the template pyrotechnics,he  focuses on trying make sense of the absurdity and grotesquerie of  wartime.

My favourite moments are on board that little boat that  the brave and patriotic Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) manoeuvres towards Dunkirk to carry out his own private rescue operations with his son(Tom Glyn Carney) and another boy with a memorable face(Barry Keoghan) who wants to make himself useful.

In a narrative that has  no  time for or patience with sentimentality there  is a moment of heartstopping poignancy when a very young man dies and the other soldiers are told to be careful about not hurting him.

“But he’s dead, mate,” a soldier points out the obvious.

“That’s why you need to be  more careful.”

When a  culture and civilization buries the dead and moves on, it makes the same mistakes over and over again.

Dunkirk tells us why we need a man of Christopher Nolan’s vision to revisit the grave errors of history.

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