“Wars are not won by evacuation…”
There will never be too many films about World War II. Or the Great War that preceded it for that matter. There are enough stories of heroism, bravery and sacrifice to last a hundred lifetimes. That doesn’t make every film about war important or noble or even any good but if anyone can be trusted to deliver a message of hope when all seems lost, it is Christopher Nolan.
Dunkirk is unlike any other war film in as much as it follows numerous narratives and characters rather than focusing on just a handful of main players. In this way, Dunkirk is indebted to Band of Brothers, the classic TV show that weaves in and out of Easy Company without ever establishing a ‘main’ character. This allows Nolan to move effortlessly between land, air and sea to tell a myriad of stories that show every face of human nature. The light and the dark.
Nolan has already turned his hand to Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Batman, and conquered all three. His first effort at a war film may just be his best yet. The sheer range and eclecticism of Nolan’s work is breathtaking but he certainly gets a helping hand from his cast here. Everyone excels in this movie. Mark Rylance is avuncular but firm, Kenneth Branagh is as warm and human as ever and even Harry Styles puts a decent shift in. Even the lesser lights shine brightly with Jack Lowden impressing as a luckless fighter pilot and newcomer Tom Glynn Carney exciting as one of the many boys who became a man at Dunkirk. And we haven’t even mentioned Cillian Murphy or Tom Hardy yet. One would assume that Christopher Nolan can pick whoever he wishes for his films, such is his reputation, but his continued ability to discover fresh talent also stands as a point of distinction.
Dunkirk breaks all the rules of a war film. There is no one hero (instead there are thousands), it isn’t very long, it doesn’t rely on special effects or gore and most of all it is doesn’t feature a fucking American flag flapping ponderously in the wind every two seconds. Quite simply, Nolan has reinvented the war movie. This is now the benchmark that all other films in this genre will have to try and beat.
I argued last year that Saving Private Ryan should be included on the school curriculum alongside war poetry. You can add Dunkirk to that list as well. Cinema at its very best.
Oh and Hans Zimmer’s score is perfect. Just perfect.