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More whimper than bang: Review of Dunkirk by Rashid Irani

This war movie is a visual spectacle. The battle sequences unspool like a fever dream. But after a while one becomes inured to the explosions and hellish horror of close combat.

movie reviews Updated: Jul 20, 2017 16:19 IST
Rashid Irani
Rashid Irani
Hindustan Times
War,World War II,World War 2
Dunkirk is based on the real-life rescue of thousands of British soldiers from a French port during World War II. The viewer is drawn into the action on land, at sea and in the air as depicted from the vantage points of a footsoldier (Fionn Whitehead, above), a yachtsman and an air force pilot.
DUNKIRK
  • Direction: Christopher Nolan
  • Actors: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy
  • Rating: 3 / 5

Having revitalised such genres as neo-noir (Memento), comic book superhero reboot (The Dark Knight trilogy) and sci-fi spectacle (Interstellar), British writer-director Christopher Nolan now takes on the war movie.

Juggling a triple-tiered timeline structure, he restages one of the most pivotal, if more-or-less forgotten, events in 20th century military history.

During the early days of the Second World War — the spring of 1940, to be precise — hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers found themselves stranded on the beaches of the Dunkirk port in northern France.

Shell-shocked and overrun by invading enemy forces, the British troops needed to be evacuated. The subsequent rescue mission involved a flotilla of naval and commercial boats sailing across the English Channel to ferry survivors home to safety.

The viewer is drawn into the action on land, at sea and in the air as depicted from the vantage points of a footsoldier (up-and-coming star Fionn Whitehead), a yachtsman (Mark Rylance) and an air force pilot (Tom Hardy).

Nolan is to be commended for his superior craftsmanship. But Dunkirk falls way short of such genre classics as The Big Red One, The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan.

The battle sequences unspool like a fever dream — the aerial vistas in particular are spectacular — but after a while one becomes inured to the bombardments, explosions and hellish horror of close combat. Overall, the effect is more whimper than bang.

Working with a seemingly gazillion-dollar budget, Nolan ensures that every cent is reflected on the super-sized IMAX screens. Credit is also due to the below-the-main-title contributors, chief among them cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and editor Lee Smith.

On the other hand, the intrusive background music score by Hans Zimmer is an ear-sore.

The concluding segment treads on familiar inspirational ground, with one of the protagonists reading aloud, from a newspaper clipping, Winston Churchill’s post-deliverance speech.

The ensemble cast, a mix of British newbies and veterans including Kenneth Branagh (wasted in the role of a naval commander), is more or less lost in the melee.

Nolan deserves to be commended for his superior craftsmanship. Ultimately, however, Dunkirk falls way short of such contemporary genre classics as The Big Red One, The Thin Red Line or Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

First Published: Jul 20, 2017 16:19 IST