A sombre, essential tribute. Experience it Discuss this article

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You’ll likely know how Dunkirk turned out, but the power of Christopher Nolan’s harrowing, unusual war movie is that it tries hard, with real success, not to make any of this feel like just another war movie. The result is awe-inspiring and alienating, perhaps as it should be.

At less than two hours (brief for the director of The Dark Knight films and Interstellar) and keeping dialogue to a bare minimum, Dunkirk gives us a short, sharp dose of the oddness and horror of war, dropping us right into the fray. It’s a staggering feat of immersive terror, blessed with such knockout photography that it has to be seen on the most massive screen possible (IMAX, ideally). It looks, feels and sounds like a nightmare, balancing naked suffering with a strong hint of genuine otherworldliness.

Nolan gives us three interlocking chapters, offering three different perspectives. There’s Kenneth Branagh’s commander on the harbour wall, Mark Rylance’s civilian sailor and Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot. Yet as much as these familiar faces give us something to grab onto, this is a war film without heroes. The event is the story.

Churchill called Dunkirk a “miracle”. The newspapers tagged it a “triumph”. Nolan resists any punch-the-air celebration. Hans Zimmer’s score scrapes away at you throughout, piling unease on unease before just touching on Elgar’s war remembrance anthem Nimrod, and then backing off, as if embarrassed. We hear Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches” speech, but the words come from the mouth of a dazed soldier, not the PM. There’s no glory here, just survival, and it all makes a distant war feel uncomfortably present.

The bottom line
A sombre, essential tribute. Experience it.

By Dave Calhoun
Time Out Doha,


  • Duration: 106
  • Released: Thu, 27 Jul
  • Language: English
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard

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