As Dunkirk’s release got closer and closer, the advertising campaign was inescapable. From billboards to Twitter, they all said the same thing - “Experience Dunkirk in cinemas Friday.” Now, I saw it in IMAX on its release day, and an “experience” was exactly what it was. This film had, without doubt, the best visuals and sound I have ever witnessed. As Robbie Collin from The Telegraph put it, “It demands to be seen on the biggest screen”, and there’s a reason for this.
Christopher Nolan swears by the Imax/65mm formats - and in this instance, it puts you there, right in the heart of this terrifying scenario. The film begins with instant action, as the focal character from the army, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), does his best to navigate his way through the streets of Dunkirk amidst heavy gunfire from all angles. The noise was thunderous, and made me jump on more than one occasion. He makes it to the beach unscathed, astonishingly, and attempts to line up, only to be told that particular line was for grenadiers. He trudges off and then we all hear it, along with Tommy - the sound of incoming enemy planes, readying an air attack. Thousands of men simultaneously hit the sand, covering their heads as the bombs begin to fall. There’s a fantastic sequence, in which Tommy is lying on the ground, right next to the camera, and the first bomb drops in the distance, the next one a little closer, and so on, until one barely misses our lead squaddie, but cover him in sand. If we thought the gunfire was loud, the bombs were another level entirely. It was during this scene that fellow Life of Films man Ryan and I looked at each other in amazement. The size and quality of the picture, and the unbelievable clarity and sheer volume of the noise served to have us right on the beach with the soldiers. Again, I’ve never witnessed anything like it before.
The film progresses telling the story from two other points of view, each with their own time frame. Tom Hardy’s Farrier, a fighter pilot, brings us the ‘Air - One hour’ point of view, Mark Rylance’s Mr. Dawson, along with his two young assistants, bring us ‘Sea - One day’, along the army’s ‘Mole - One week’. This was a masterstroke from Nolan, bringing his signature time element. He told the story in conjunction with how long it lasted for the different parties involved. So the infantry were stuck on the beach for a long, gruelling week, primarily facing fear, but also monotony at times. But relatively, Hardy’s Farrier would carry one hour of fuel for his mission, and this would have felt like far longer, as the film reflected.
As the time spans began to overlap, you’d see different scenarios begin to make sense and it was wonderful. At one point, Hardy returns what he thinks are waves to a downed pilot comrade, but we later discover from Rylance’s ‘Sea’ strand that his comrade was actually stuck in the cockpit of his plane, fighting the rising water and windshield glass to escape.
There are times where the soldiers we follow almost manage to escape, but yet another gut-wrenching setback occurs and they are worse off than square one. The whole thing is brutal, and Nolan holds nothing back in doing his very best to interpret and convey what it may have been like to be in the middle of such horror. With the story being a well-known, real-life event, there was little in the way of complexity on that front, but the intensity of each moment was at extreme heights.
Dunkirk was a bold move by both Nolan and Warner Bros, because, being based on real and tragic events, there is a large element of sentimentality and risk. Done wrongly, and risk disrespect. But, as far as I can see, Nolan has produced yet again. His most immersive film yet, in terms of forcing you into the middle of the scenes. I walked out of the IMAX theatre with one word on my mind - art. This film is a work of art, a true masterpiece. Being a huge Nolan fan, my main point of intrigue prior to the release of Dunkirk was how he would tackle a real life event, having mainly focussed on comic book adaptations or supernatural, mind-bending concepts. His hot streak continues. It’s harrowing, it’s gripping, and it’s outright genius.
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