Dunkirk (2017 film)
Dunkirk is a 2017 war film written, co-produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan. It features an ensemble cast starring Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy, and portrays the Dunkirk evacuation of the Second World War. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, the film is a co-production between the United Kingdom, the United States, France, and the Netherlands.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Christopher Nolan|
|Written by||Christopher Nolan|
|Music by||Hans Zimmer|
|Cinematography||Hoyte van Hoytema|
|Edited by||Lee Smith|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$378.9 million|
Nolan wrote the script, told from three perspectives - land, sea, and air - with little dialogue and intended to create suspense through visuals and music. Filming began in May 2016 in Dunkirk, France, and ended that September in Los Angeles, where it began post-production. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shot the film on IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film stock. It made extensive use of practical effects, such as employing thousands of extras, boats that had participated in the real Dunkirk evacuation, and using era-appropriate planes for the aerial sequences.
Dunkirk premiered on 13 July 2017 at Odeon Leicester Square in London, England and was released in the United Kingdom and United States on 21 July 2017 in IMAX, 70 mm and 35 mm film. The film has grossed over $378 million worldwide and received critical acclaim for Nolan's screenplay and direction, the acting and cinematography, with some critics calling it Nolan's best film to date, as well as one of the greatest war films ever made.
The narrative follows three inter-connected perspectives covering different but overlapping periods: on land covering one week, on the sea covering one day, and in the air covering one hour. The three parts interweave to create a non-linear narrative.
An introductory text says that in 1940, after the invasion of France by Nazi Germany, hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers retreated to the seaside town of Dunkirk. As the Allied perimeter shrinks and German forces close in, the soldiers await evacuation in a seemingly hopeless situation.
I. The MoleEdit
On land, Tommy, a young British private, is the sole survivor of his section, after an ambush by unseen German soldiers in the streets of Dunkirk. He makes it to the beach, where he finds British and Allied troops waiting for evacuation. He meets Gibson, another young soldier, who appears to be burying a comrade. After a German Stuka dive-bomber attack, they happen upon a man left for dead. They rush his stretcher up to the front of the queue and onto a ship, hoping to evacuate with the wounded, but are denied passage themselves. Undeterred, they hide on the mole, hoping to sneak aboard the next vessel. However this ship is attacked as it departs; in the chaos they save another soldier, Alex, from being crushed as it sinks. They embark on another departing ship that night, but this is sunk by a torpedo from a U-boat. Gibson saves Tommy and Alex and they are taken to shore by a soldier (who later shows up as the shell-shocked soldier in The Sea plotline).
Commander Bolton and Colonel Winnant review the situation. Prime Minister Winston Churchill has said that he will not be seeking peace and has committed to evacuating 30,000 soldiers. Furthermore, the Navy has decided not to use larger capital ships in the evacuation in order to preserve them to defend against an anticipated invasion of Britain, and has also decided not to evacuate French soldiers to maximise space. In order to evacuate more men the navy has requisitioned smaller civilian vessels that can sail up closer to the beach.
The next day, Alex, Tommy, and Gibson join a group of Scottish soldiers that has located a grounded fishing trawler in the intertidal zone outside of the Allied perimeter. They hide in it hoping to use it to evacuate when the tide rises. Its owner, a Dutch mariner who answered Britain's calls for civilian evacuation, returns and explains that he had left the boat to wait for the rising tide. Soon after, German troops start to shoot at the boat for target practice, unaware of the soldiers sheltering inside. When the tide rises, the bullet holes in the hull make it difficult to keep the boat afloat. Seeking to reduce their weight, Alex accuses Gibson, who has remained silent throughout, of being a German spy, and demands that he be put off. Tommy defends him, but Gibson reveals that he is French, and had stolen the identity of the soldier whom he had been burying, hoping to evacuate with the British. The ensuing physical altercation rocks the boat upright and the seaman is able to start the engine. However, they are unable to get very far before it sinks. The men abandon ship, except for Gibson, who becomes tangled in a chain and drowns. Alex and Tommy swim for a nearby minesweeper, but this is sunk by a bomber. They are narrowly rescued from a burning oil slick, after being taken aboard Mr. Dawson's Moonstone.
They cross the English Channel, and are placed on a train in Weymouth. As the train enters Woking, Alex and Tommy expect that their retreat will earn them public scorn; instead, they receive a hero's welcome. While Alex embraces the welcome, Tommy is preoccupied by reading Churchill's address to the nation from a newspaper.
Back on the beach, Commander Bolton watches the last British soldiers leave. He confirms that 300,000 have been evacuated, ten times the most positive initial estimate. He stays behind to oversee the evacuation of the French rearguard. Colonel Winnant renders a salute.
II. The SeaEdit
In Weymouth, the Royal Navy is commandeering private boats for the evacuation. Mr. Dawson, a civilian, cooperates, but rather than let a navy crew take his boat, he and his son Peter take her out themselves; their teenage hand George impulsively joins them as they leave, hoping to do something noteworthy to compensate for his poor performance in school. As they head towards Dunkirk, Mr. Dawson points out three Spitfires flying overhead. They encounter a shell-shocked officer on a wrecked ship, the sole survivor of a U-boat attack, and take him aboard. When he discovers that Dawson is sailing for Dunkirk rather than to England, he begins to panic. Intimidated by the soldier, Peter locks him below deck. After escaping, the soldier tries to wrest control of the boat, and in the scuffle George falls, suffering a severe blow to the head. Peter treats George's wounds as best as he can, but his injury grows worse, causing him to go blind. Duty-bound to aid the evacuation, Dawson continues towards France.
They see a Spitfire ditch in the ocean, and Dawson steers for it in case the pilot, Collins, can be rescued, despite not seeing a parachute. Collins is trapped in his Spitfire by the jammed canopy. Before Collins drowns, Peter breaks open the canopy and pulls Collins aboard. Peter reveals that his elder brother was a Hurricane pilot, killed in the opening weeks of the war. They encounter a minesweeper-turned-transport under attack from a Heinkel bomber. Dodging fire from the accompanying fighters, they manoeuvre to take on troops from the sinking ship, which is spilling oil. They get clear just before the oil is ignited by the bomber which has been shot down. Dawson and his crew pull as many survivors aboard as they can, among them Alex and Tommy. As the boat fills with men, Peter tells them to be careful around George, but a soldier reveals he has died. Peter returns above board, and the shell-shocked soldier asks him if George is all right. Peter holds back any anger and lies, telling him that George will be fine. Back in Weymouth, Dawson is congratulated for the number of men he has saved, as George's body is carried off the boat on a stretcher. The shell-shocked soldier sees this before he leaves for the train. Peter later gives a photograph of George and the details of his participation to the local newspaper, which leads to a front page article commending him as a war hero.
III. The AirEdit
Three RAF Spitfires, piloted by Farrier, Collins and their Squadron Leader (callsign 'Fortis Leader'), head across the English Channel to provide air support to the operation at Dunkirk, knowing that the time they can spend there is limited by their fuel supply. They encounter German fighters and get into a dogfight, during which 'Fortis Leader' is shot down. Farrier assumes command, and although his fuel gauge is shattered, they continue towards France. They shoot down another Luftwaffe plane in their next skirmish, but Collins's Spitfire is badly damaged and he opts to ditch in the Channel rather than bail out. Farrier assumes Collins is fine after seeing his waving hand and continues alone.
Farrier sees a German bomber attacking a minesweeper-turned-transport near Mr. Dawson's yacht. Switching to reserve fuel, he engages both it and a fighter overhead. He shoots down the bomber after it damages the minesweeper, but it crashes into an oil slick spilling out of the ship, igniting it and several survivors.
Flying on, Farrier reaches Dunkirk, his fuel tank exhausted, in time to shoot down a dive bomber while he is gliding, saving British ships and the troops squeezed onto the docks. He glides over the beach to cheers from the soldiers and sailors below. Farrier just manages to crank his landing gear down as the wheels touch the sand beyond the Allied perimeter. He sets fire to his plane with his flare gun to prevent it falling into German hands, and is then taken prisoner by German soldiers.
- Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, a British Army private
- Tom Glynn-Carney as Peter, Mr Dawson's son
- Jack Lowden as Collins, a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot
- Harry Styles as Alex, a private in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
- Aneurin Barnard as "Gibson", a French soldier masquerading as a British Army private
- James D'Arcy as Colonel Winnant
- Barry Keoghan as George
- Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton, the pier-master during the evacuation
- Cillian Murphy as Shivering Soldier
- Mark Rylance as Mr Dawson, a mariner and Peter's father
- Tom Hardy as Farrier, a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot
Michael Caine is heard in a spoken cameo role as Fortis Leader, as a nod to his role in the 1969 film Battle of Britain. According to D'Arcy and Nolan, Winnant and Bolton act as a Greek chorus to give the audience context. To get acclimatised to cold water, Styles and Whitehead underwent training sessions at Point Dume in Malibu, California.
In the mid-1990s, director Christopher Nolan came upon the idea when he and Emma Thomas sailed across the English Channel to replicate the trip made by many small boats during the Dunkirk evacuation. Nolan originally considered not writing a script, but instead improvising the entire film. He was persuaded to change his mind by Thomas. In 2015, a 76-page screenplay was written, about half the length of Nolan's usual scripts and his shortest to date, with a precise mathematical structure. This necessitated fictional characters, rather than ones based on actual eyewitnesses.
Nolan decided to make the film from three perspectives—the land, sea, and air. He structured the story from the point of view of the characters, with the intention that most of it was to be told visually rather than through dialogue and backstory. The entire film was made to encompass the snowball effect that had only been used in the third acts of his previous films. He approached the research as though it were for a documentary film. What made the project attractive to Nolan was its inherent contradiction to the 'Hollywood formula', as the Battle of Dunkirk was not a victory, did not involve America, and yet demanded a big-scale production to be put on screen.
Nolan decided to postpone Dunkirk until he had acquired sufficient experience directing large-scale action films. To convey the perspective of soldiers on the beach, for whom contact with the enemy was "extremely limited and intermittent", he made a conscious decision not to show Germans on screen. Also omitted were Winston Churchill and any scenes of generals in a war room, as Nolan did not want to get "bogged down in the politics of the situation". He screened for key members of the crew eleven films that had inspired him: All Quiet on the Western Front, The Wages of Fear, Alien, Speed, Unstoppable, Greed, Sunrise, Ryan's Daughter, The Battle of Algiers, Chariots of Fire, and Foreign Correspondent – only two of which are war films. The film's historical consultant was author Joshua Levine, who also wrote the book adaptation, Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture. Levine accompanied Nolan while interviewing veterans. During these interviews, Nolan was told a story of soldiers seen walking into the sea in desperation, which he incorporated into the screenplay.
The production team and scouting locations were chosen before Nolan and Thomas solicited Warner Bros. Pictures to make the film. Nolan and his production designer Nathan Crowley toured the beach while location scouting, and decided to film there despite the logistical challenges, discarding Suffolk as an alternative. Crowley set up a makeshift art department in Nolan's garage, and colourised black-and-white photographs to better understand the visual representation. The design aesthetic was made to look as contemporary as possible. Hoyte van Hoytema, who previously collaborated with Nolan on his 2014 film Interstellar, was chosen as the director of photography. Nolan made a deal with Warner Bros. to receive a $20 million salary plus 20% of the box office gross, the most lucrative percentage since Peter Jackson received the same for King Kong. Pre-production officially began in January 2016.
For the uniforms, costume designer Jeffrey Kurland aimed to balance historical accuracy with aesthetics that would favour the film stock. As the original heavy wool fabric had not been produced since 1940, it was made from scratch, tailored for the main cast and over a thousand extras. Uniforms were made in a factory in Pakistan and the boots by a shoemaker in Mexico. The costume department then spent three weeks ageing them at Longcross Studios. Each garment was made to look distinct in regiment and personality: Tommy wears a large greatcoat, while Alex dons the Highlander cut. Kurland found references at the British Museum, RAF Museum and Imperial War Museum, in magazines from the era, photo archives and books.
The mole was rebuilt over four months in accordance with the original blueprints. Sand was brought back from Dunkirk so that the make up department could create products that conformed to the environment. Oil and tar were specially made, and prosthetics were water and fire resistant.
Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance were in talks to join the ensemble as supporting characters in late 2015. Fionn Whitehead was cast as the lead in March 2016, while Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles were added to the list shortly after. Cillian Murphy joined the following month. James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan and Tom Glynn-Carney were included in the line-up later that May. After first-hand accounts of the Dunkirk evacuation revealed to Nolan how young and inexperienced the soldiers were, he decided to cast young and unknown actors for the beach setting. Nolan was also adamant that all of the cast be British.[nb 2] John Papsidera and Toby Whale were the casting directors for Dunkirk.
Principal photography commenced on 23 May 2016 in Dunkirk, planned so as to avoid the final days of winter and Bastille Day, and to coincide with the dates of the real evacuation.[nb 3] Production continued for four weeks in Urk, Netherlands,[nb 4] one week in Swanage and Weymouth in Dorset, United Kingdom, and for two weeks at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center and Lighthouse in Rancho Palos Verdes, United States.[nb 5]
Filming in Dunkirk took place at the location of the real evacuation, while the street scenes were shot in nearby Malo-les-Bains because most of the buildings in Dunkirk were destroyed in the war. Shooting times on the beach and mole were determined by tidal patterns. French labour strikes and working time regulations also affected the production schedule. To minimise the need for computer-generated imagery (CGI), cardboard cut-out props of soldiers and military vehicles created the illusion of a large army. Real or scale model fighter aircraft, and real warships and private boats, provided realism that could not be achieved from CGI. Scale models were created via 3D printing. The mole set was frequently rebuilt after being damaged by bad weather. Because French authorities had prohibited pyrotechnic charges, to protect marine life, air cannons were used instead. Six thousand extras were needed for the filming in France. Early scenes of the film were shot at Weymouth harbour, and the final scenes at Swanage railway station. Universal Pictures' Falls Lake studio in Los Angeles was used for interior and exterior sets of a sinking ship and plane, with the ship interiors filmed in a water tank using stuntmen.
Crowley and marine coordinator Neil Andrea located nearly sixty ships, which Nolan had reconditioned for the shoot. These included the retired French Navy destroyer Maillé-Brézé, which was made to look like a 1940 British warship  as there were no wartime British destroyers left with working engines. Three retired Royal Netherlands Navy ships were also used: the minesweeper Hr. Ms. Naaldwijk portrayed HMS Britomart (J22), Hr. Ms. Sittard portrayed HMS Havant (H32) and HMS Jaguar (F34), and MLV Castor portrayed HMS Basilisk (H11). An MTB 102 and the 1930s Norwegian steamer Rogaland were also used. Over fifty other boats included twenty actual Little Ships of Dunkirk, piloted by their owners. A small 1930s motor yacht called Moonstone served for six weeks of filming; its most demanding scenes, with up to sixty people on a boat designed for fewer than ten, were shot on the Dutch lake IJsselmeer to avoid the challenge of the Dunkirk tides.
Aircraft were equipped with dual cockpits for filming in flight. A Yakovlev Yak-25TW was modified to resemble a Supermarine Spitfire, and two Supermarine Spitfire Mark IAs, a Spitfire Mark VB, and a Hispano Buchon painted to resemble a Messerschmitt Bf 109E, were also used for the combat scenes. Large-scale radio controlled model aircraft, including Heinkel He 111 and Junkers Ju 87 bombers, were filmed crashing into the English Channel. The real Spitfires were provided by the Imperial War Museum Duxford, and owner Dan Friedkin piloted the one that was shot landing on the beach in Dunkirk. These takes had to be done within forty-five minutes, before the tide came back in. IMAX cameras were attached to the fighter planes using specially-made snorkel and periscope lenses – in the back and the front – and large-scale mockups were submerged with cable rigs for a crash scene. A Piper Aerostar enabled filming from the air, also with IMAX cameras front and rear. Dogfights over the Channel were shot by an aerial unit based at Lee-on-Solent Airfield. Hardy and Lowden spent the final stages of the shooting schedule on a cliffside in Palos Verdes, inside purpose-built cockpit gimbals, with limited contact with the rest of the cast and crew. Principal photography ended on 2 September 2016, after sixty-eight days.
The film was shot on a combination of IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film stock in Panavision System 65, with more IMAX footage than in any of Nolan's previous films – an estimated seventy-five percent. The sparsity of dialogue made it possible for IMAX cameras, which are notable for making noise, to be used as the primary format. Panavision and IMAX lenses enabled filming at night. For the first time in a feature film, IMAX cameras were used hand-held, which Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard advised as the best way to shoot on vessels.
Nolan's regular collaborator Lee Smith returned to edit Dunkirk, beginning in September 2016 after Smith had assembled shots unsupervised while filming was still in progress. Editing took place in Los Angeles with an audio mixing team of eight people. Nolan said: "You stop seeing the wood for the trees", and singled out the editing of the aerial sequences as a particular challenge, likening this to a chess game. Limited computer-generated imagery was applied to improve some scenes, but none were created entirely of CGI. Weather continuity presented less of a challenge than expected, with filming both in Europe and California. Multiple versions and mixes were cut to further refine the dramatic impact.
Sound designer Richard King sent two sound mixers to audio record the Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford using twenty-four microphones. Unable to find an actual dive siren of a Stuka dive bomber, King created his own to try and replicate the sound. For scenes in which ships gave out sounds of people in distress, voices were captured using an ADR "loop group". C-4 and liquid propane were blown up to record sound for the explosions. Also featured were the whistles attributed to German bombs during the Second World War.
|Dunkirk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|Soundtrack album by Hans Zimmer|
|Released||21 July 2017|
|Hans Zimmer chronology|
By January 2016, composer Hans Zimmer had already begun working on the score. For the purpose of intensity, the script was written to accommodate the auditory illusion of a Shepard tone, which had previously been explored in Nolan's 2006 film The Prestige. This was coupled with the sound of a ticking clock, that of Nolan's own pocket watch, which he recorded and sent to Zimmer to be synthesised. Additional music was provided by Lorne Balfe, Andrew Kawczynski, Steve Mazzaro, and Benjamin Wallfisch.
"Nimrod" from Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations is part of the theme, which was slowed down to six beats per minute with added bass notes to avoid it sounding sentimental. Instrumentation included a double bass and fourteen cellos played in high register. King relayed to Zimmer the sound of a boat engine, which served as a reference for the tempo. Zimmer visited the Dunkirk set for inspiration and chose not to view raw footage of the film whilst composing the score. The music was recorded at AIR Lyndhurst Hall in London with Geoff Foster as mix engineer.
|Dunkirk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|1.||"The Mole"||Hans Zimmer||05:36|
|2.||"We Need Our Army Back"||Zimmer||06:28|
|10.||"Variation 15 (Dunkirk)"||
The world premiere was held on 13 July 2017 at Odeon Leicester Square in London, England. The film was theatrically released on 21 July, projected on IMAX, 70 mm and 35 mm film. It is the fourth Nolan film to be released in the third week of July, a period in which Warner Bros. Pictures has previously achieved success. It was Nolan's preference that the film open in July instead of the northern-hemisphere autumn awards season. The film was initially screened in 125 theatres in 70 mm, which proved to be the widest release in that format in twenty-five years.
The announcement teaser debuted in cinemas ahead of Suicide Squad and was released online on 4 August 2016. According to data analytics firm ListenFirst Media, it generated the most Twitter engagement of any trailer released that week. The first full-length trailer was released on 14 December 2016, alongside a five-minute cinema-exclusive prologue shown before selected IMAX screenings of Rogue One. Dunkirk was the most discussed film that week according to media measurement firm comScore, and the trailer got over 21 million views on YouTube. The prologue returned for a week before selected IMAX showings of Kong: Skull Island. Footage from the film was well received at CinemaCon 2017. Warner Bros. aired a TV spot to coincide with the 2017 US national basketball playoffs. The official trailer was released on 5 May 2017, after a countdown on the film's website and four fifteen-second teasers leading up to it. Dunkirk was again the most discussed film that week according to ComScore. The video game developer Wargaming included in its titles World of Tanks, World of Warships and World of Warplanes missions and rewards related to the film. On 6 July, Warner Bros. released another trailer, which for the third time was the most discussed film of the week. The prologue was shown at selected Wonder Woman IMAX screenings in July.
Sue Kroll, president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Marketing and Distribution, said that it was important that Dunkirk was marketed as a summer event movie as opposed to a period war film, to highlight its "magnificent scale and originality". This strategy was maintained throughout the campaign. To convince audiences that the film was best experienced in theatres, the prologue was never made available online. TV spots were distributed sporadically during sports games and notable television series to establish the film's themes. Social media infographics described the scale and importance of the Dunkirk evacuation. Additionally, a Google 360 Experience interactive adventure, an Amazon Alexa programme, and a 360-degree short film, were created. In partnership with fast food restaurant Carl's Jr., the film was branded on four million cups, as well as pop-ups at nearly 3000 locations.
As of 18 August 2017[update], Dunkirk has grossed $158.8 million in the United States and Canada and $218.1 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $376.9 million, against a production budget of $100 million.
In the United States and Canada, industry tracking for the film's opening weekend ranged from Variety's $30–40 million to Deadline.com's $35 million, while BoxOffice speculated an opening weekend of $55 million and a total $220 million domestic gross, and IndieWire speculated an opening weekend of $50 million and $500 million in worldwide gross. Dunkirk made $19.8 million on its first day, including $5.5 million from preview screenings. It went on to finish first at the box office and marked the third-largest opening for a World War II film (behind Captain America: The First Avenger's $62.1 million and Pearl Harbor's $59.1 million), as well as the fourth largest opening of Nolan's career. In its second weekend, the film grossed $26.6 million (a drop of 44.3%), beating newcomer The Emoji Movie to the top spot. The film grossed $17.1 million in its third weekend, falling to second place at the box office behind newcomer The Dark Tower ($19.2 million), and again finishing second in its fourth week, this time behind Annabelle: Creation with $10.9 million.
The film opened in France on 19 July 2017, and made $2.2 million on its first day. It was released in seven markets the following day, earning an additional $6.3 million. On 21 July, the film was released in forty-six more countries and grossed $12.7 million from over ten thousand theatres, with $3.7 million from the United Kingdom. It ended up with an international debut of $55.4 million, including $4.9 million in France, $12.4 million in the U.K. and $10.3 million in Korea.
Dunkirk received critical acclaim, with praise for its direction, cinematography and acting. Some critics called it Nolan's best film to date and one of the greatest war films ever. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, it holds an approval rating of 93% based on 319 reviews, with an average of 8.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Dunkirk serves up emotionally satisfying spectacle, delivered by a writer-director in full command of his craft and brought to life by a gifted ensemble cast that honors the fact-based story." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 94/100 based on 52 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". According to AlloCiné, the film has an average note of 4.1/5, based on 22 critics. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian awarded the film five out of five and called it Nolan's best to date, saying: "Nolan surrounds his audience with chaos and horror from the outset, and amazing images and dazzlingly accomplished set pieces on a huge 70mm screen, particularly the pontoon crammed with soldiers extending into the churning sea, exposed to enemy aircraft". Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter also lauded the film, calling it "an impressionist masterpiece" and writing: "Although the film is deeply moving at unexpected moments, it's not due to any manufactured sentimentality or false heroics. Bursts of emotion here explode like depth charges, at times and for reasons that will no doubt vary from viewer to viewer. There's never a sense of Nolan – unlike, say Spielberg – manipulating the drama in order to play the viewer's heartstrings. Nor is there anything resembling a John Williams score to stir the emotional pot". Peter Debruge of Variety praised the detailed plot (although calling Zimmer's musical score "bombastic"), writing: "Nolan has found a way to harness that technique in service of a kind of heightened reality, one that feels more immersive and immediate than whatever concerns we check at the door when entering the cinema." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times described the film as a "tour de force of cinematic craft and technique" while she lauded Nolan's elastic approach to narrative as "beautiful". Mick LaSalle of San Francisco Chronicle also praised the film, calling it a "triumph" and "masterpiece", while commending Nolan's unique style and approach to directing a war film, as well praising the performances. The Economist labelled Dunkirk as "a remarkable film" and a new classic. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times hailed it as one of the best war movies of the decade and as "tight, gripping, deeply involving and unforgettable" and a "triumph in filmmaking".
Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly scored the film an "A", calling it the best of 2017: "By the end of Dunkirk, what stands out the most isn’t its inspirational message or everyday heroism. It’s the small indelible, unshakeable images that accumulate like the details in the corner of a mural". Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph gave the film five stars out of five, lauding it as "a work of heart-hammering intensity and grandeur that demands to be seen on the best and biggest screen within reach". Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded it his first four-star rating of 2017 as "maybe the greatest war film ever" and a work of significant artistic merit: "There's little doubt that [Nolan] has, without sentimentality or sanctimony, raised that genre to the level of art. Dunkirk is a landmark with the resonant force of an enduring screen classic". He also called it the first major Oscar contender of the year. Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com gave it 3.5/4 despite not liking the film, stating that he "loathed parts of it and found other parts repetitious or half-baked. But, maybe paradoxically, I admired it throughout, and have been thinking about it constantly since I saw it.... This is a movie of vision and integrity made on an epic scale... It deserves to be seen and argued about".
Jacques Mandelbaum of Le Monde praised its realism, but regretted that the film ignores the part played by French troops. Kevin Maher in The Times gave it two out five, saying "[Dunkirk] is 106 clamorous minutes of big-screen bombast that's so concerned with its own spectacle and scale that it neglects to deliver the most crucial element—drama." Maher also stated that in comparison to other war films such as The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far and Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk felt like a Call of Duty video game. David Cox of The Guardian criticised the historical inaccuracies, the paucity of female characters, its small scale, and over-dramatisation, thinly characterised cast and lack of suspense.
The film received praise for its generally realistic representation of the historical evacuation. It accurately depicts a few Royal Air Force planes dogfighting the Luftwaffe over the sea, limited to one hour of operation by their fuel capacity. Destroyers and fighter planes were held back from battle, as the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force would have been the sole defenders of Britain in case of an invasion attempt. Also praised were accurate depictions of how a small boat attempted to evade aerial attack, and how soldiers returning to England saw a civilian population largely unaware of or unaffected by the war. Leaflets demanding that the British surrender were dropped from the air, but not of the design used in the film.
However, although some events are loosely based on true history, the characters and storyline are fiction. Branagh's character is a composite of several historical figures. When the beach scenes were shot, the weather was worse than during the real evacuation; Nolan explained that this helped to understand the danger faced by the pleasure boats. In one scene, an officer gives a salute without wearing his military beret, which a veteran pointed out as inaccurate protocol. The German planes had their noses painted yellow in the film to better distinguish them; in reality, this was not done until a month after Dunkirk. The involvement of French, African, and Indian soldiers was either limited or left out of the film. Modern shots were used for the aerial photographs, whereas in reality the town was substantially in ruins by the time of the evacuation. British officers did initially refuse to evacuate French soldiers, with conflict arising from both sides, although Churchill later insisted that the French be evacuated alongside the British.
- Additional production by Warner Bros. Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Canal+, Ciné+, and Studiocanal.
- Barry Keoghan and Cillian Murphy, however, are Irish.
- Dunkirk was approved under the French international tax rebate scheme.
- The film received $1.2 million through the Netherlands' rebate incentive programme.
- In the course of shooting, Dunkirk operated under the working title of "Bodega Bay", a place in Northern Califomia suggested by production designer Nathan Crowley.
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