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Dunkirk: why it’s poised to join the ranks of brilliantly unpredictable Christopher Nolan masterpieces


Amidst the onslaught of superhero epics and roaring monster movies arriving this year, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is poised to be very different.

With its feet firmly planted on the ground and in fact, the Inception and Interstellar director carves out exciting new territory in this sure-to-be-gripping dramatisation of the World War II Dunkirk evacuation known as Operation Dynamo.

However if you were expecting a conventional war movie then think again – after all, this is Nolan we're talking about, a director famous for putting his narratives through the blender. Let's find out what he's been saying about the movie and why, narratively, it's of a piece with his earlier, time-twisting masterpieces.

What's the movie about?

The movie takes as its basis the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the eponymous French town in May and June 1940, a pivotal moment in World War II history and one that ultimately helped to determine the Allied victory.

Shot using a combination of 65mm film stock and IMAX 65mm the movie is poised to be a handsome and engrossing account of one of the darkest hours in the conflict, a powerful statement about the nobility and endurance of the human spirit. Featuring an all-star cast of British thesps including Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and, erm, Harry Styles, it's set to be unmissable cinema in the director's usual style.

What has Nolan been saying?

The director has confirmed that the story will play out from three different perspectives, playing around with both our sympathies and perceptions of time as the fraught and harrowing evacuation unfolds. On land, characters played by the aforementioned Styles and Fionn Whitehead will act as our guide. In the air, Hardy's pilot carries us through. And on the sea, Murphy is the main focus.

"For the soldiers embarked in the conflict, the events took place on different temporalities," Nolan explains to French magazine Premiere. "On land, some stayed one week stuck on the beach. On the water, the events lasted a maximum day; and if you were flying to Dunkirk, the British spitfires would carry an hour of fuel. To mingle these different versions of history, one had to mix the temporal strata. Hence the complicated structure; Even if the story, once again, is very simple."

So why should we be excited?

As Nolan's words make clear this isn't just a sweeping presentation of a wider conflict but rather a nuanced portrayal that presents us with three different interpretations, all of which take us up close and personal to those involved.

The time-shifting structure also ensures there is continuity with the majority of Nolan's back catalogue, all of which have gripped and surprised audiences by playing around with the fabric of cinema.

His breakout Memento simultaneously played events in a complex backwards/forwards structure, tieing us into central character Guy Pearce's struggle with short term memory loss. The Prestige was a glorious puzzle box movie, a story-within-story thriller about warring magicians that brilliantly used unreliable perspectives to wrong-foot us.

And his grandiose epics Inception and Interstellar acted as visually extraordinary reminders that our human perception of time is fundamentally limited, whether it's the former's eventual slide into limbo or the latter's revelation about how the past, present and future can all co-exist at once. Even his blockbusting Dark Knight trilogy hinged on the potent use of flashbacks to fill us in on the tortured anguish of Bruce Wayne and other key characters.

In short, Nolan's unconventional presentation of relatively straightforward narratives has earmarked him as one of the most singular directors of the last twenty years. Given Dunkirk is his first excursion into the realm of the fact-based war movie, indications are he'll shake up that genre in similar style – need we say more about why we're anticipating this one?

When's it out?

Dunkirk is released on 21st July in both 2D and IMAX. Already planning to book your tickets? Let us know @Cineworld.