Review: Dunkirk

An unforgettable and intimate cinematic experience


“There’s no such thing as an anti-war film” is a quote attributed to the late French filmmaker François Truffaut, suggesting that war and conflict is inevitably glorified in its depiction. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk finds a way to subvert this claim. His portrait of the fabled World War Two evacuation does not romanticise war or fetish violence. Instead it displays the bravery and resolve of over 400,000 Allied troops, many of which never made it home.

From the very outset you can hear the sound of a ticking stopwatch, of time running out. For if the Allied forces don’t escape France soon, they shall be massacred. It is apt then that the plot of Dunkirk incorporates time so deeply. There are three different perspectives shown in the 100 minute length, the first of which is entitled ‘The Mole’. This thread of the narrative structure details the week long land based evacuation centering around a young Private called Tommy (Fionn Whitehead). The second thread is called ‘The Sea’ and takes place over a single day. Mark Rylance plays the owner of a pleasure boat who, rather than let the Navy requisition his ship, sets sail for Dunkirk himself accompanied by his son and boat hand. Finally, ‘The Air’. This is but an hour. That’s how long Farrier (Tom Hardy) can provide air support in his Spitfire with a full tank of fuel.

Incredibly, all three of these perspectives are interwoven together, converging on a single moment. The scale of this, Nolan’s tenth feature, is awe-inspiring. From the wing of a Spitfire to the largest naval film shoot in history — including a 350-foot French destroyer from a museum in Nantes — his insistence of realism over computer generation bring us to within almost touching distance of the conflict. The dogfights especially were a technical marvel.

For the soundtrack to the film, Nolan turned once again to his long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer. In order to achieve the unrelenting tension and unease, Zimmer made use of an auditory illusion, the Shepard-Risset glissando. Put simply it is three versions of the same scale, each one octave apart. The high scales starts loud and gets quieter, the middle scale stay a constant volume, and the lower scale starts quiet and gets louder. Your brain is tricked into thinking the scale is continuously rising. Add in the sound of a ticking clock and the result in an ever-increasing sense of unease, pushing the narrative forward with it.

This minimalistic ethos seeped into other areas of production too, namely the dialogue. Harry Styles, who was the standout performance, speaks maybe 40 lines, leaving the visuals to throw the psychological punches. Yet the events of those days are dealt with using a surprising candour. A scene of one soldier taking off his gear and marching into the sea and to his death was met with silence, except for the inescapable tick tock of time.

The magnitude of Dunkirk is tremendous, but there is an unforgettable intimacy shared with those men. Their desperation to survive is haunting, with each death as heart-rending as the last. It is a breathtaking experience, Nolan’s crowning jewel in a catalogue of cinematic excellence.

Review: Interstellar

Do not go gentle into that good night

Good cinema will make you experience a wide range of emotions, and sometimes even managing to surpass that. One that makes you think, to contemplate the wider issues that are swept under the blanket. Is Earth our sole home? Are we destined to die here or will we spread to the stars? Questions that become increasingly important as time goes on, for how long till we face a similar situation?

For fans of sci-fi who are frustrated with the latest trend of action movies that are set in space, this is a breath of fresh air. You’ll find no unnecessary action here, no over the top ships, and no alien attacks for the sake of flexing those budget biceps. The plot is simple, Earth is slowly becoming inhabitable. Decades of overindulgence has led to worldwide famine and war. Those left are farmers with one in particular being Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former pilot. As a nitrogen-hungry disease ravages crops and causes reduced oxygen levels a new threat arises. “The last people to starve will be the first to suffocate”


In circumstances I won’t reveal, Cooper meets a now underground NASA and is convinced to lead a mission to another galaxy, to potentially habitable planets. This is not just an exploratory mission, it’s a search for survival, a planet that can sustain human life. The film boasts a massive $165 million budget and you can instantly see how that was put to use with the depiction of other planets being phenomenal. Where other films simply fly out to the Middle East to create their Mars-like alien world, Nolan does it right. For the portrayal of space alone I feel this film will be regarded as a classic in years to come. That is before you factor in the incredibly intricate and complex story, the great acting and use of sound. Everything has a purpose, seemingly irrelevant moments in the first act suddenly become vitally important as we follow the numerous twists thrown at us.

After talking to several friends about their opinions, there was only one recurring negative: that the first act was too slow and they found themselves losing concentration. While this may be true initially, after you let the film simmer in your mind you begin to, as I mentioned before, make connections. With a second viewing you’ll be blown away by the sheer amount of things that forebode about the future, in ways you can’t possibly predict first time around. The Nolan brothers did a fantastic job and I feel they deserved more praise in the writing department.


Something that surprised me, especially considering the fact that this was a blockbuster release, was the amount of times it brought a tear to my eye. Not just that but the variety of ways it was achieved. Emotion isn’t understated in order to pander to a wider audience, the movie is without a doubt emotionally exhaustive and when the credits hit the screen there will be a long silence before you finally speak.

When the 2014 Academy Award Nominations were revealed I was shocked that the acting was not recognised. Jessica Chastain as the grown up Murphy was sensational, a level above any over performance that year. Mackenzie Foy, who played the young Murphy, surpassed my expectations and then some garnering well deserved praise. The performance has been recognised by studios as well with her receiving a leading role in an upcoming adaptation of The Nutcracker also featuring Kiera Knightley, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren.

Once again Nolan teamed up with film composer extraordinaire Hans Zimmer and the result is magnificent. Straying away from his traditional orchestral soundtrack, he opts for a more stripped back sound using a piano, organ and synth to create a dream-like atmosphere. A decision that complements the plot and visuals perfectly.

Going into the cinema I hoped that silence would be used to emphasise the scale of Cooper’s mission and the universe itself and I was not disappointed. The most immersive moments incorporated silence in a major way with the most notable being the initial separation of the ship upon launch. It was here than I learned what the phrase ‘deafening silence’ means. Another example was when Dr Mann (played by a surprisingly unbilled actor) opens the airlock as he is mid sentence of a grand speech. A gasp was heard throughout the cinema and while the event itself was inevitable, the delivery was sublime. The soundtrack crescendos to thunderous levels and then, nothing. A case study in immersion through sound.


When it comes to modern sci-fi films (e.g. The Martian and Passengers), the ships and their interiors are fantastically futuristic, an illustration of where we want our state of space travel to be. Interstellar on the other hand goes down a different path. Since the famine and the wars that follow, NASA has been forced underground. No one would, in their right mind, fund space travel in a time where the only surviving crop is corn. As a result the technology is dated, reminiscent of the golden age of NASA. A time where man dared to do more than just dream of leaving this planet. This golden age is reflected in the colour palette used for the entire film after the first act, full of warm oranges and reds.

Nolan should be heralded for more than just his cinematic achievement though with his picture. In preparation for the wormhole and black hole scenes, the visual effects team worked in unison with physicist Kip Thorne to create state-of-the-art simulations in real time, IMAX quality. The result is truly extraordinary. Those who went to the cinema to see this received a science fiction experience unparalleled in modern times. If you ever have the opportunity to see a reshowing, do yourself a favour and go see it, you will not be disappointed.

Interstellar may not be Nolan’s best film in terms of critical acclaim and audience reception, but in decades to come I feel it will be the most well-remembered, alongside Inception. Beneath the hard sci-fi shell this is a relationship drama, one that Nolan can personally identify with. About how your career can take you away from family for great periods of time and the major moments in their lives are reduced to nothing more than brief glimpses of another world.