Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017)

What's it about? It's about the evacuation of Allied troops from the beaches at Dunkirk in Spring 1940. From three perspectives, we experience the action from land (Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles amongst those stranded), sea (Mark Rylance on board one of the 'Little Ships' who answer the call to save the men) and air (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden as RAF pilots engaging the Luftwaffe) in the race against time to save the men.

Is it any good? Not unlike the famous speech that is referenced near the end. It contains some dodgy moments of patriotic artifice, but it's nicely constructed and stirring stuff nonetheless. There's certainly no doubt about Nolan's commitment, that's for sure. Shooting with a minimum of CGI in pursuit of realism, he shall film on the seas and oceans, shall film in the air, shall film on the beaches, with blood, toil, tears and sweat, whatever the cost may be. As a result, it looks and sounds absolutely great, recreating the events in immaculate fashion. Plus, as we have seen in Inception, Memento and Interstellar, Nolan likes to play around with time in his movies, so the action on land, sea and air take place in three timelines (one week, one day, one hour respectively). It means the audience needs to pay attention, as the film re-visits some events from one perspective, which play out differently when viewed from another. Such an approach runs the risk of being a bit gimmicky, but does make for tense viewing, helped in no small part by Hans Zimmer's ticking, insistent score which mimics the sound of engines and gunfire throughout.

For all that, though, it falls short of being a great war film. In terms of characters, there's clearly been a deliberate decision to avoid any backstory or character development to concentrate on the 'everyman' experience, in and of the moment. But this does minimise the emotional impact of the film and it doesn't help that when it does pause the action for a quiet moment, it's a little treacly. The dying wishes of a young lad, a manly tear on the cheek of a commanding officer and a few other moments of character drama never ring true - best if we just stick to the action. But even the action feels somewhat sanitised - although it's realistically chaotic, there's no genuine sense of the sheer terror,and carnage that these soldiers would have experienced. In fact, they all seem remarkably stoic and stiff upper-lipped in the face of impending death. All told, it's a terrifically staged, exciting film, but rarely a moving or horrifying one, as the best war films are.

Anything else I should know? Naturally, you'll be keen to know how much dramatic license has been taking with the story. So you can give yourself a little history lesson in this useful article from the excellent History vs Hollywood website. Elsewhere, it is important to know that Harry Styles drops an F-bomb  in the film, which apparently has done more damage than all the bombs dropped in Dunkirk in reality. Sign of the Times, I suppose. Award yourself a high-five if you get that joke.

What does the Fonz think? Jolly good show.

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