Dunkirk (2017 film)

Last updated on 25 July 2017

Dunkirk is a 2017 English-language war film[nb 2] written, co-produced and directed by Christopher Nolan. The film stars 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. Set during the Second World War, it concerns the Dunkirk evacuation. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, the film is an international co-production between the United Kingdom, the United States, France and the Netherlands.

Nolan wrote the script, told from three perspectives—the land, sea, and air—to contain little dialogue and create suspense solely through details. Filming began in May 2016 in Dunkirk, France, and ended in Los Angeles, United States, where it also began post-production. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shot the film on IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film stock. The film made extensive use of practical effects, such as employing thousands of extras, assembling boats that had participated in the real Dunkirk evacuation, and using genuine era-appropriate planes for aerial sequences.

Dunkirk had its world premiere on 13 July 2017 at Odeon Leicester Square in London, England, and was theatrically released in the United Kingdom and United States on 21 July 2017 in IMAX, 70 mm and 35 mm film. It has grossed over $107 million worldwide and was praised by critics for its cinematography, direction, acting and Hans Zimmer's musical score, with some critics calling it one of the greatest war films ever, as well as Nolan's best film to date.

Dunkirk Film poster.jpg
Dunkirk Film poster.jpg

Plot

The film's narrative follows three major threads covering different periods of time: one beginning on land and covering one week, one on the sea and covering one day, and one in the air covering one hour. These are interwoven in a non-linear narrative.

An introductory text states that in 1940, after the invasion of France by Nazi Germany, thousands of Allied soldiers retreated to the seaside city of Dunkirk. As the surrounding British perimeter shrinks, the soldiers await evacuation a seemingly hopeless situation.

i. The Mole

East Mole Dunkirk.jpg
The remains of the East Mole of Dunkirk harbour, pictured in 2009

On land, Tommy, a young British private, is one of several soldiers who come under fire from unseen German soldiers on the streets of Dunkirk. He is the only one to make it to the perimeter, where he finds British and allied troops staging for evacuation on the beach. He meets Gibson, another young soldier, who appears to be burying a friend. After a German air raid, they happen upon a wounded man who has been left for dead, and rush his stretcher up to the front of the queue, to a ship evacuating the wounded, about to depart. They are denied entry to the boat themselves, however, and instead hide on the mole, hoping to sneak aboard the next vessel. However the ship is attacked as it launches; in the chaos they save another soldier named Alex from being crushed by it as it sinks. They get on another departing boat that night, but it is sunk by a torpedo from a U-boat; Gibson saves Tommy and Alex and they make their way to shore. Meanwhile, Commander Bolton and Colonel Winnant discuss the situation; the Prime Minister has rejected German surrender offers, and has committed to evacuating 30,000 soldiers. Furthermore, the military has decided to requisition smaller civilian vessels for the evacuation in order to preserve the larger capital ships for the defense of Britain.

The next day, they join a group of Scottish soldiers who have located a grounded boat in the intertidal zone outside of the Allied perimeter, which they hide in and hope to use for escape when the tide rises. A Dutch man flees into the boat, and tells that German soldiers are outside. The Germans begin shooting at the boat for target practice, unaware of the soldiers sheltering inside. When the tide eventually rises, so many bullet holes have been left in the ship that it cannot stay afloat. Seeking to reduce their weight, Alex accuses Gibson, who has remained silent throughout, of being a German spy, and demands he be put off the ship. Tommy defends him, but Gibson reveals he is French and had stolen the identity of the soldier Tommy had found him burying, to improve his chances of evacuation. As the ship sinks, Gibson becomes tangled in a chain and drowns. Alex and Tommy swim for a nearby minesweeper, but it is sunk by a German bomber. Mr Dawson's boat arrives on the scene and takes them on board, narrowly rescuing them from an oil slick. Unfortunately, several of their friends are killed in a fire as they leave. They return to England, where the men see the coast of Dorset before being placed on a train home. Alex and Tommy expect that their disgraceful retreat will earn them the scorn of the British public; instead, they receive a heroes' welcome.

Back on the beach, Commander Bolton watches as the last British soldiers are evacuated from Dunkirk. He confirms that 300,000 soldiers have been evacuated, ten times the most positive estimate. However, he opts to stay behind to oversee the evacuation of the French rearguard.

ii. The Sea

On the sea, the Royal Navy is commandeering private boats to participate in the evacuation. Mr Dawson cooperates without question, 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. As they continue towards Dunkirk, Mr. Dawson points out three Supermarine Spitfires flying overhead. They encounter a shell-shocked soldier on the wreck of his ship, the sole survivor of a U-boat attack, and take him aboard. When he discovers that Dawson is still sailing for Dunkirk rather than taking them to England, the soldier tries to wrest control of the ship from him, and in the scuffle George falls and takes a severe blow to the head. Peter treats George's wounds as best as he can, but George goes blind. Duty-bound to aid in the evacuation, Dawson continues toward France.

They see a Spitfire plane ditch in the ocean, and Dawson steers for it just in case the pilot can be rescued. They pull Collins from the plane as it sinks; it is revealed that Peter's older brother was a Hurricane pilot, lost in the opening weeks of the war. They encounter a minesweeper under attack by a German bomber and accompanying fighter planes. Dodging weapons fire from the fighters, they manoeuvre to take on troops fleeing the damaged ship, which is spilling oil, narrowly getting clear before the oil is ignited. Dawson and his crew pull as many survivors aboard as can fit, among them Alex and Tommy. As the boat fills with men, the Dawsons learn that George has died. Peter takes pity on the shell-shocked soldier, however, and lies to him that George will be all right. In Dorset, Dawson is congratulated for the number of men he has saved, as George's body is carried off the boat. The soldier sees this before he leaves for the train, and sits in a compartment with Alex and Tommy. Peter later brings a photograph of George and a report of his participation to the local newspaper, which lauds him as a youthful hero.

iii. The Air

In the air, three Spitfire pilots – Farrier, Collins, and their squadron leader – are underway across the English Channel to provide air support to the troops waiting at Dunkirk, with instructions for how much fuel they can spend there before needing to return. Although Farrier's fuel gauge malfunctions, he continues onwards nevertheless They encounter a Luftwaffe plane, which shoots down the squadron leader. Farrier assumes command of the duo, and they continue toward France. They are successful in taking down a plane in their next skirmish, but Collins' plane is damaged and he is forced to ditch in the Channel, with Farrier unaware of his final fate. Farrier continues alone, and switches to reserve fuel, having burned his entire ration in maneuvers along the way. As he flies overhead, he witnesses the destruction of the minesweeper and the sinking of Tommy and Alex's boat. He finally reaches Dunkirk, where evacuation efforts are being attempted under enemy bombardment. He takes out the bomber, saving ships and troops. Farrier flies over the beach, boosting morale as the soldiers clap and cheer for him. Out of fuel, he glides for a landing on a beach and barely cranks his landing gear in time. Grounded beyond the Allied perimeter, he sets fire to his plane, and is taken prisoner by the Germans.

Cast

Michael Caine appears in a spoken cameo role as radio communication to the Royal Air Force.[27]

Production

Development

Twenty-five years prior to making the film, director Christopher Nolan came upon the idea when he and his wife Emma Thomas sailed across the English Channel to Dunkirk.[29] Nolan wrote the seventy-six-page screenplay,[28][30] about half the length of his usual scripts[31] and his shortest to date.[17][32] It was written with a precise mathematical structure, requiring the basis of the characters to be fictional rather than taken from actual eyewitnesses.[26] Nolan decided to make the film as a triptych, told from three perspectives – the land, sea, and air.[33] Nolan structured the story from the point of view of the characters, with the intention that most of it was to be told visually, which meant doing away with dialogue and backstory.[34][35] The entire film was made to encompass the snowball effect that had only been used in the third acts of his previous films.[30] He approached the research as though it were for a documentary film.[27] What made the project attractive to Nolan was its inherent contradiction to 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.[17]

Nolan decided to postpone Dunkirk until he had plenty of experience directing large-scale blockbuster action films.[26] To accurately convey the perspective of the soldiers on the beach – for whom contact with the enemy was "extremely limited and intermittent" – he made a conscious decision to never show Germans on screen.[36] 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".[37] He found inspiration in eleven films – 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.[38] The film's historical consultant was author Joshua Levine,[17][16] who also wrote the book adaptation, Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture.[39] Levine accompanied Nolan while interviewing veterans.[29][40][41] During these interviews, Nolan was told a story of soldiers who were observed walking into the sea in desperation and incorporated it into the screenplay.[40]

Nolan and his production designer Nathan Crowley toured the beach while location scouting, having decided to film there despite the logistical challenges of shooting on-location.[17] Hoyte van Hoytema, who previously collaborated with Nolan on his 2014 film Interstellar, was chosen as the cinematographer.[42] Nolan made a deal with Warner Bros. whereby he would receive a $20 million salary plus 20% of the box office gross, the most lucrative deal since Peter Jackson received the same amount for King Kong.[43]

Casting

Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance were in talks to join the ensemble as supporting characters in late 2015.[44][45] Fionn Whitehead was cast as the lead in March 2016,[46] while Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles were added to the list shortly after.[47][48] Cillian Murphy joined the following month.[49] James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan and Tom Glynn-Carney were included in the line-up later that May.[50][51] After first-hand accounts of the Dunkirk evacuation revealed to Nolan how young and inexperienced the soldiers were,[52] he decided to cast young and unknown actors for the beach setting.[53] Nolan was also adamant that all of the cast be from the British Isles.[17][nb 3]

Filming

Le Moonstone du film Dunkirk.jpg
Moonstone off Dunkirk during filming with Nolan, Rylance, Glynn-Carney and Keoghan on board.
MailleBreze FilmDunkirk.JPG
The French Navy destroyer Maillé-Brézé at the port of Dunkirk during filming.
MLV Castor - Port of Rotterdam.jpg
MLV Castor was modified to resemble HMS Basilisk (H11).

Principal photography commenced on 23 May 2016 in Dunkirk, France;[55][nb 4] in the months following, production proceeded in Urk, Netherlands,[57][nb 5] Swanage and Weymouth in Dorset, United Kingdom,[59] and the Point Vicente Interpretive Center and Lighthouse in Rancho Palos Verdes, United States.[60][nb 6] Filming in Dunkirk took place in the same location as the real historical evacuation.[16][62] Universal Pictures' Falls Lake studio in Los Angeles was used to film the interiors of a sinking ship, which took place in a water tank with around fifty stuntmen present.[16] Around six thousand extras were used during the shoot.[63] Nolan investigated silent films to influence crowd scenes with suspense using only details because of the minuscule presence of dialogue in the film.[64] Hardy and Lowden spent a bulk of their shooting schedule inside purpose-built cockpit gimbals and had limited exposure to the rest of the cast and crew.[16][65]

The film was shot on a combination of IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film stock in Panavision System 65,[44][66] with more IMAX footage shot than in any of Nolan's previous films[67] – an estimated seventy-five percent.[17] Panavision and IMAX lenses provided the ability to shoot at night.[26] For the first time in a feature film, IMAX cameras were used in a hand-held capacity,[68] advised by Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard as the best way to shoot on vessels.[40]

Marine coordinator Neil Andrea located up to sixty ships over the course of five months[69] which Nolan had reconditioned for the shoot,[16][70] including the retired French Navy destroyer Maillé-Brézé,[71] which was made to look like a British destroyer from 1940.[17] Three retired Royal Netherlands Navy ships were 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).[72] MTB 102, one of the last boats to leave Dunkirk in June 1940, was also used.[73] Over fifty other boats were used in filming, including twelve actual Little Ships of Dunkirk. A small motor yacht called Moonstone, built in the 1930s, served for six weeks of filming as one of the key sets. Its most demanding scenes, including placing up to sixty people in a boat designed for fewer than ten, were shot on the Dutch lake IJsselmeer.[16][17]

Planes had to be equipped with two cockpits so as to allow filming in-flight.[74] For this purpose, a Yakovlev Yak-3 was designed to appear like a Supermarine Spitfire, in which a given actor and pilot would be situated.[75] Two Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IAs, a Spitfire Mk.VB and a Hispano Buchon (masquerading as a Messerschmitt Bf 109E) were also used to film the aerial combat scenes. Large-scale radio controlled model aircraft, including Heinkel He 111 and Junkers Ju 87 bombers, were filmed crashing into the English Channel.[17][76] IMAX cameras were attached to the fighter planes using specially-made snorkel lenses – in the back and the front[16][17] – and large-scale mockups were submerged with cable rigs for a crash scene.[16]

Avoiding the use of computer-generated imagery, cardboard cut-out props of soldiers and military vehicles were employed to create the illusion of a large army.[62]

Post-production

Nolan's regular collaborator Lee Smith returned to edit Dunkirk.[26] Smith assembled the shots unsupervised while filming was still in progress.[77] Editing took place in Los Angeles, composed of an audio mixing team of eight people. Nolan said of the process, "You stop seeing the wood for the trees", concluding that detail was its most predominant purpose.[17] Nolan singled out the editing of aerial sequences as a particular challenge,[77] likening them to a chess game.[31] Double Negative undertook the visual effects work while FotoKem, which assisted as the production's film laboratory, also handled the release prints.[78]

Music

By January 2016, composer Hans Zimmer had already begun working on the score.[80] 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.[81][77] Additional music was provided by Lorne Balfe, Andrew Kawczynski, and Steve Mazzaro.[82] Zimmer's score borrows notably from the Enigma Variations of British composer Edward Elgar.[83][84]

Track listing

No. Title Length
1. "The Mole" 5:35
2. "We Need Our Army Back" 6:28
3. "Shivering Soldier" 2:52
4. "Supermarine" 8:03
5. "The Tide" 3:48
6. "Regimental Brothers" 5:04
7. "Impulse" 2:36
8. "Home" 6:02
9. "The Oil" 6:10
10. "Variation 15 (Dunkirk)" 5:51
11. "End Titles" 7:12

Release

The world premiere was held on 13 July 2017 at Odeon Leicester Square in London, England.[85][86] The film was theatrically released on 21 July,[87] projected on IMAX, 70 mm and 35 mm film.[88] It is the fourth Nolan film to be released in the third week of July, a period in which the studio has previously achieved success.[89] It was Nolan's preference to have the film open in July as opposed to the fall awards season.[90] Being shown in one hundred twenty-five theatres in 70 mm,[91][92][93] it is the widest release of the format in twenty-five years.[94]

Marketing

The announcement teaser debuted in cinemas ahead of Suicide Squad[95] and was released online on 4 August 2016.[96] According to data analytics firm ListenFirst Media, it generated the most Twitter engagement of all the trailers that were released that week.[97] The first full-length trailer was released on 14 December 2016,[98] alongside a five-minute[99] cinema-exclusive prologue displayed prior to select IMAX showings of Rogue One.[100] Dunkirk was the most discussed film that week, according to media measurement firm comScore,[101] and the trailer garnered over twenty-one million views on YouTube.[102] The prologue returned to the screen for one week with select IMAX showings of Kong: Skull Island.[103] Footage from the film was displayed at CinemaCon 2017 to significant acclaim.[104] Warner Bros. aired a TV spot in partnership with the NBA to coincide with its 2017 playoffs.[105] The official main trailer was released on 5 May 2017 after a countdown on the film's website[106][107] and four 15-second teasers leading up to it.[108][109][110][111] Once again, Dunkirk was the most discussed film that week according to comScore.[112] 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.[113] On 6 July, Warner Bros. released another trailer, which for the third time caused Dunkirk to be the most discussed film that week.[114] The prologue was shown at select Wonder Woman screenings in July.[115]

Reception

Box office

As of 23 July 2017, Dunkirk has grossed $50.5 million in the United States and Canada and $55.4 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $105.9 million, against a production budget of $150 million.[11]

In the United States and Canada, industry tracking for the film's opening weekend ranged from Variety's $30–40 million[116] to Deadline.com's $35 million,[117] while BoxOffice speculated an opening weekend of $55 million and a total $220 million domestic gross,[118] and IndieWire speculated an opening weekend of $50 million and $500 million in worldwide gross.[119] Dunkirk made $19.8 million on its first day, including $5.5 million from preview screenings. It went on to debut to $50.5 million, finishing 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 (second biggest not including his Dark Knight films).[90]

Outside North America, 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.[120] 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.[121]

Critical response

Dunkirk was met with critical acclaim and was praised for its direction, cinematography, acting and musical score, with some critics calling it one of the greatest war films ever made and Nolan's best film to date.[122] On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 249 reviews, with an average rating of 8.6/10. 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."[123] Metacritic assessed, based on 52 critics, a weighted average score of 94 out of 100, indicating "universal acclaim" among the sampled critics.[124] According to AlloCiné, the film has an average note of 4.1/5, based on 22 critics.[125] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.[90]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian awarded the film five stars out of five and called it Nolan's best film 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".[126] 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".[127] Peter Debruge of Variety praised the film for its detailed plot and Zimmer's musical score, which he referred as "bombastic", writing: "Christopher 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."[1] 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".[128] Mick LaSalle of San Francisco Chronicle also similarly praised the film, calling the film a "triumph" and "masterpiece", while commending Nolan's unique style and approach of directing a war film, as well praising the performances of the cast.[129] The Economist labelled Dunkirk as "a remarkable film" and a new classic.[130]

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".[131] 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".[132] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded the film his first four-star rating of 2017, arguing that it "may be the greatest war film ever" and praising it as 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.[133] Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars despite not liking the film, stating that "I 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, a series of propositions dramatized with machinery[,] bodies, seawater and fire. It deserves to be seen and argued about".[134]

Jacques Mandelbaum of Le Monde praised the realism of the feelings conveyed to the viewer, but regretted that the movie ignores the part played by French troops in the evacuation.[135] Kevin Maher, writing in The Times, gave it two stars 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.[136]

Historical accuracy

Correctly depicted was the Royal Air Force dogfighting the Luftwaffe above the beaches of Dunkirk, Calais and Ostend. However, none of the British aircraft were reported to have been seen in the skies. It is true that destroyers and fighter planes were withdrawn from battle, as the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force would have been the sole defence of Britain in case of an invasion. Airborne leaflet propaganda demanding that the British surrender had in fact been produced, yet did not share the design used in the film. British officers refusing to evacuate French soldiers occurred as well, with conflict arising from both sides.[137] In one scene, an officer grants a salute without wearing his military beret, which was pointed out by a Dunkirk veteran to Nolan as inaccurate protocol.[138]

Notes

  1. ^ Additional production by Warner Bros. Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Canal+, Ciné+, and Studiocanal.[2]
  2. ^ Asked about its PG-13 rating, Nolan explained that he did not consider Dunkirk to be a war film, but rather a suspense film which "does not necessarily concern itself with the bloody aspects of combat".[12]
  3. ^ Barry Keoghan and Cillian Murphy, however, are Irish.[54]
  4. ^ Dunkirk was approved under the French international tax rebate scheme.[56]
  5. ^ The film received $1.2 million through the Netherlands' rebate incentive programme.[58]
  6. ^ In the course of shooting, Dunkirk operated under the working title "Bodega Bay".[60][61]

See also

References

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  2. ^ "Film Releases". Variety Insight. Archived from the original on 13 July 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "WORLDWIDE RELEASE DATES". DunkirkMovie.com. Archived from the original on 9 July 2017.
  4. ^ "DUNKIRK (2017)". British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on 5 July 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d "British Films Directory". British Council. Archived from the original on 30 December 2016.
  6. ^ Keegan, Rebecca. "How Dunkirk, Summer’s Boldest Box-Office Gamble, Paid Off". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
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