When Christopher Nolan gave an interview recently where he said that ‘Dunkirk’ had about half of the dialogue of his other blockbuster hits, fans were immediately curious. Would the acting of the all-star cast make up for the lack of words? Or would their performances be so striking that their emotions would be portrayed without them at all?
What happens in the 105-minute long film is more than words can accurately describe. With an incredible Hans Zimmer soundtrack, scenes that pull at your heartstrings with nothing more than the empty look in a soldiers eyes meeting the eyes of one who is just a bit more ruthless.
You see every single emotion on the faces of the soldiers, the captains, and even those who aim to bring home to the stranded men in Dunkirk. The truth is, had the film contained more dialogue, its honesty and power may have been lost.
Nolan also wanted his audience to leave sympathy and empathy at the door, so we didn’t get to know the characters. Tommy and Alex, George and Mr. Dawson (though we did learn a bit more about them than other characters), Peter and the ‘shivering soldier’ – they’re just men who are struggling to survive. They’re men trying to get home – or trying to bring home to stranded soldiers.
Fans did know about the actors on screen, however, and those actors are being hailed all over the entertainment industry, and rightfully so.
Fionn Whitehead made his acting debut in the film and he was incredible. You saw every piece of his pain and his heartache and the moments he dared to have hope. You felt it.
For Harry Styles, it was also his first film and his character played the opposite of Fionn’s. He was rougher around the edges, hell bent on getting home no matter what it took. He was mouthy and he was tough, but you saw all of the parts of him, too. His fear that he tried to mask and the emptiness he felt returning from a war he felt like he didn’t give his all to. His role was incredible, his talent was indescribable, and it won’t soon be forgotten.
Cillian Murphy, as the shivering soldier, was shell shocked, there physically but absent mentally. Tom Hardy placed it all on the line to protect as many people as he could, his role really pulled on your heartstrings.
Tom Glynn-Carney and Mark Rylance played heart wrenching roles alongside Barry Keoghan, ones you won’t soon forget. They’re some of the biggest heroes of the film and their determination was beautiful to watch.
Kenneth Branagh plays a leader with ease and wears his emotion on his sleeve. Jack Lowden and James D’arcy are, too, just trying to find a way to bring hope to a hopeless situation.
Maybe what sets Dunkirk apart from other war films is that Nolan wanted to make it a film about survival too, about the lengths people will go to make it home. At the same time, he made it about the lengths people will go not just to save themselves, but to save others.
It also reminds us that being a hero doesn’t always look like the valiant war cry, sometimes, it’s just trying to be bigger than you were yesterday.