Complimenting Nolan's direction is the flawless cinematography brought to us by his previous collaborator, Hoyte van Hoytema. Honestly, can we just hand him the Oscar now? Against such brutality and devastation, Hoytema extracts the pale colours from the sky and the deep blues of the British Isles, to form a visual as stunning as it is powerful; Dunkirk could have easily looked like wet cement, dull and drab to match the bleak evacuation - but shots of the soaring planes and ships inbound cannot help but send shivers down your spine.
Hans Zimmer's sensational score is resolute, absolutely critically in cultivating and progressing the film's never-ending tension. Feeding into the suspense, Zimmer's hugely influential soundtrack choreographs the film and events, acting as the foundation for its narrative strands to dance around, as Nolan and Zimmer, together, ramp up the tension to almost excuriating levels. Something as simple as a ticking clock, in all its overuse as a cinematic device, is completely appropriate, heightening the impact of the race against time. Zimmer ensures the invigorating and enormously important use of his soundtrack never goes amiss and its constant presence in the picture is one of its many defining features. Blistering and searing, the only thing almost as loud was my heartbeat every single time the soundtrack reached a crescendo. Give this man all the awards, now.
Another highly-praised (and deservingly so) element is Dunkirk's editing. Lee Smith's rapid-fire cutting and stitching together of the various strands and timeline compliments that growing cacophony and encourages the film to move along at the brisk pace it does. At just 106 minutes, the amount of ground and substance the film covers is astounding, but the editing plays a large hand in ensuring it never appears rushed, messy or hacked, which could have been a destructive detriment. Thanks to Smith's control and Nolan's input, those pitfalls are avoided and the film excels.
As with most genre pictures, Dunkirk is a very loud film. It's startling and overwhelming, busy and frantic for the most part as planes fire and the soundtrack (and your heart-rate) builds - but its script remains surprisingly silent. Dialogue is sparse and infrequent, utilised as a method to convey themes of shell shock and devastation, to further benefit the atmosphere, tone and tension and because it is simply not needed. As explained, Nolan trusts his audience to follow for themselves and sees dialogue and language as a potential hindrance to that all important tension and the audience's engagement in the film. Nolan's bravery to do this, a way from the usual conventions of a film like this, is one of the many reasons he is so highly-regarded.
Dunkirk is really an ensemble number and it would be unfair to call anybody the lead, per se. Nolan's conscious decision to cast only actors from the British Isles proves to be an incredibly smart, adding to the film's realism - you genuinely believe this young men are soldiers on the shores of France, fighting their way towards home.
Those on land are a relatively unknown ensemble (for their acting, in the case of Mr Styles) but prove to be a genuine crop of rising stars. Fionn Whitehead has a real career ahead of him in the industry, and his ability to convey so much emotion, fear and naivety through a performances largely devoid of words is astonishing; One Direction member Harry Styles makes his acting debut with a truly credible turn as Alex, another solider fighting for home, with a growing paranoia brought through the effects of the trauma of the battlefield; Aneurin Barnard is powerful as the deer-in-headlights type, struggling with his surroundings; while the more established Cillian Murphy provides a complex turn that allows us to explore themes of PTSD and claustrophobia with a brilliantly captivating turn as a lone survivor.
As their superiors, the likes of James D'Arcy and Kenneth Branagh consider the logistics of a mission as huge and crucial as the Dunkirk evacuation, demonstrating the sheer weigh higher-ranking individuals were forced to contend with. On the sea, Mark Rylance leads the way with his son and ship hand, played by Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan, providing some of the most touching scenes of the picture. In such a confined space (and the film really is defined by these suitably uncomfortable set pieces), the trio provide some poignant moments that displays the effects of those left behind in the war. And finally, Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden command the air as pilots, with two reliably fantastics turns. It is rare to see a film with an ensemble bursting with talent with no clear lead emerging; Nolan cleverly avoids temptation and this never becomes an issue - he simply does not require someone to anchor the film, achieving that through his script and direction - and places two much larger entities are the major key players and 'characters'.
Home and hope are two themes continually present throughout Dunkirk, almost manifesting into characters themselves. Cutting through the horror and bleakness of war is this underlying inspiration and drive to reach a home the soldiers cannot see; an unseen salvation. A visual story, with every shot of the sea comes an understanding that home is just beyond it; with every bomb dropped comes the knowledge that hope will lead them home - Nolan places this idea at the forefront of the picture and these ideas become as important as any character. Home and hope never leave the film's sight or core, despite only materialising metaphorically, with an extraordinary balance attained.
With Dunkirk's brutality comes a a beauty and with its complexity comes an understanding, resulting in a cinematic experience so considered, visceral and expertly rendered that it will be remembered for years to come. Dunkirk will be held up as an example of what cinema can, and should be. Many directors would love to have that longevity and appreciation for just one of their films - Nolan has, to my counting, a third in the terrifying, shattering Dunkirk. Go and see it, seriously.