Rewatched: 26 December
Here’s what I thought when I first watched Dunkirk in the cinema last summer…
In a way Christopher Nolan’s critically-acclaimed and much-loved Dunkirk is the logical conclusion of ‘set piece’-oriented blockbuster filmmaking, because even though he has three stories of varying length playing out concurrently (and edited together superbly) in this WWII-set drama, his 100-minute-long film is effectively one very long, very tense sequence that builds and builds towards a particularly thrilling finale. That’s an awful prospect for us to consider with the future in mind, because lesser directors will try to pull off something similar and will fail, but in this case I was gripped throughout and felt for the first time in a long time that I was watching a blockbuster worthy of the name. Anyway, just to be clear, Dunkirk is also much more than just an extended, bravura action sequence; it has Mark Rylance’s kind-faced performance and Tom Hardy’s narrowing eyebrows; the otherness of the icy Channel and the miserable rain-swept beach; Harry Styles’ unexpectedly effective panic and Hans Zimmer’s apt metronomic score. There’s a lot here to enjoy.
With regard to the soundtrack, during the upbeat nature of the finale (some of which doesn’t quite sit right, such as Kenneth Branagh’s clunky delivery of the line “Hope”), I did really love how the composer incorporated Elgar’s Nimrod. That was beautiful and I was surprised to find myself fighting back tears and feeling a degree of pride; it is quite something to imagine at this point a granddad or other loved one making their way back from France – sans musical accompaniment – and it’s something that is bound to affect many people. I certainly don’t understand why anyone would sneer at or look down on such a reaction in other cinemagoers, should they experience the film differently. Anyway, I think Dunkirk is a superb technical achievement and an extremely effective way of playing around with narrative threads; and it’s also one of the finest war films since Saving Private Ryan, if not the finest. (*****)