Hans Zimmer's score for 2017's Dunkirk is clearly meant to evoke a ticking clock. Which is fitting since the film's emphasis on time is second only to Memento in Christopher Nolan's filmography. A surprisingly restrained film after the emotional effusion of Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises, Dunkirk is a pleasant experience.
Nolan cuts between three different stories over the course of the film with three different time frames--a story beginning on the beaches of Dunkirk set over the course of a week, a story set on a small civilian boat over the course of a day, and a story about two spitfires set over the course of an hour. As the stories each draw closer and closer to intersecting, Nolan gives a nice impression of how the different moving gears of what might be called the grand war clock all move separately and in relation to each other.
Many war films spend time establishing back stories for their characters but most of the people in Dunkirk are almost anonymous. We learn next to nothing about Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), the protagonist of the first story. The effect is almost like a video game--he becomes a cursor to convey an almost purely sensory experience as a point of view for the audience. It creates a colder experience than many films, which I didn't mind for the most part. It only seemed odd when the large groups of soldiers gathered on the beaches were shown maintaining complete silence.
Quite an introspective bunch.
Slightly warmer is the second story, the one about a civilian boat captain, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), and the two teenage boys who accompany him after civilian craft are drafted into service to help evacuate British troops from Dunkirk. Dawson is a nice fellow to watch, he speaks to the boys with a real sense of authority and knowledge without intrusive ego, just the sort of fellow you'd like to be in charge in a situation like this. He questions himself in one scene but it doesn't make his resolve seem foolish.
The hour story features Tom Hardy as an RAF spitfire about whom we learn even less, if possible, than Tommy. In this circumstance his story becomes very much about Hardy's performance and watching as he reacts to dogfights and the struggles in the sea below. Everything he is is told mostly in Hardy's reactions since he has hardly any dialogue. It's a very subtle experience.
Visually, the film is nice, despite featuring the all too common blue and orange colour corrected cinematography. Also featuring Kenneth Branagh and James D'Arcy as some officers in charge of the evacuation and Cillian Murphy as a shell shocked survivor, the film is pleasing to watch.