By Adam Ray Palmer
When a warm and sunny Saturday morning arrives, what do you do? You go and see a heartfelt war-epic in a plush, air-conditioned cinema screen, right?
In the Phoenix Cinema in Leicester to be exact; where their intimate screening made it an all-better and real cinema experience. It’s a top place to catch today’s movie Dunkirk.
Written and directed by the cinematic genius Christopher Nolan; Dunkirk stars an illustrious British (and Irish) cast including Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance and the newbie Harry Styles.
It's 1940 and Allied soldiers in France are surrounded and forced onto the beach at Dunkirk.
As chaos goes on around, English soldiers (including Styles and Whitehead) dodge bullets and bombs as they wait transport home. Meanwhile, private English citizens who own boats have volunteered to cross the channel and pick up as many soldiers as they can carry. This is where we meet Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance); along with two boys, as he rescues a downed fighter pilot (Cillian Murphy).
However, there’s a lot more going on as the combat is relentless. Another fighter pilot (Tom Hardy) crosses the channel, carefully conserving his fuel, when an enemy plane attacks and makes Hardy face a difficult decision. Plus, back at the beach, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) waits on the dock for help to arrive as he tries to save his men.
Christopher Nolan's return to the big screen is seismic, and much needed for cinema. Dunkirk is his first history movie but there’s nothing Nolan cannot turn his hand to. It’s visceral and powerful to say the least; with many moving sequences. What’s mightily impressive here is the lack of back story as we are thrusted into the action from scene one. It’s such a bold opening sequence, you know you’re in for a difficult two hours.
Another masterful decision of Nolan’s is not to romanticise any character. There’s no soldier longing to get home for a loved one, they are just desperate to get home period. They are scared, exhausted and feel like they’ve let their country down. For me, the only love story in Dunkirk is the admiration that the civilians feel for our heroes.
I have read a lot about the film before I saw it, and a few niggles that have reared the head time and again is Dunkirk’s experiment with time. Nolan is no stranger to this, particularly with Memento, but he tells three stories here that entwine and sometimes the choppy changes can be difficult to keep up with, especially with no warning – but you certainly get the unpredictability of war this way. The story's three sections are told at different rates; the beach sequences take place over one week, the boat sequence takes one day, and the plane sequences take one hour.
I can’t end this review without commenting on the sound maestro Hans Zimmer. His heavy score is so haunting throughout, it pins you in your seat like you’re trapped on the dusty beaches. The constant ticking of a clock echoes in your ears long after the credits roll, much
to your annoyance, but it’s only an ounce of what war must feel like.
Dunkirk is such an immediate horrors-of-war experience, throwing the viewer so vividly into the picture, that’s it difficult to turn away even though you’re desperate too. The film makes you feel such pride for our heroes, and what horrors they endured. I walked out of the cinema amazed at the spectacle, but also so relieved to be a 90s baby.
Cineroom’s Rating: 5 Stars
Dunkirk is out now worldwide, screening locally at the Phoenix Cinema Leicester – certificate 12A