Review by: Robert Trate
Composer: Hans Zimmer
Distributor: WaterTower Music
Tracks: 11 Tracks
Run Time: 60 Minutes
Dunkirk makes the sixth collaboration between director Christopher Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer. The duo is best known for their dynamic presentation and rebirth of the Batman franchise, best known now as The Dark Knight Trilogy. Yet, those three scores would not receive any Oscar nominations for Zimmer. It was his re-teaming with Nolan for Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014) that would garner him nods from the Academy. It sounds as if his third nod is in the works with Dunkirk.
Word War II films have a long history of memorable scores. Earlier films, a mere few years after
the conflict that changed the world, were more action based and had catchy tunes. The Bridge on the River Kwai, by Malcolm Arnold, and The Great Escape, by Elmer Bernstein, immediately come to mind. More recently, John Williams’ score for Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan accompanies the film as a tone setter and not as something to push the action or story forward. Williams’ score would receive a nomination, as would Zimmer’s The Thin Red Line, but both would lose to Nicola Piovani’s Life is Beautiful. 1999 really was the year for WW2 films.
Zimmer has returned to the genre with a similar feel that helped to shape The Thin Red Line into one of the best cinematic scores to emerge in the last thirty years. Dunkirk’s score is completely a tone setter, a heart beat to pound the audience into the moments they are watching and will never experience. Yet I feel that fans of Zimmer’s superhero endeavors will find it completely captivating.
The mood is set here with Zimmer’s masterful keystrokes on the synthesizers. It is not a full orchestra, but a ticking pocket watch (Nolan’s own watch according to IMDB), where each stroke of the secondhand is a piece of music that enables the viewer to live every second. Initially, I listened to the score several times before I saw the film. I find this enables me to visualize the story first solely based on the music. In short, what is the composer trying to make me feel?
Zimmer produced a score that feels as if every second matters, as well as every second will take forever. I felt as if I was trapped on that beach. That there was no way home. It’s a nerve racking experience. So imagine my tension level when I watched the film and was ready to rip my arm rest off the chair. I heard someone describe Dunkirk as the D-Day beach scene in Saving Private Ryan only it’s an hour and 47 minutes of it. That description is completely accurate with Zimmer pounding your heart in with each note.
There are two tracks that I believe stand out of above the rest. Now there are multiple variations on the music and themes here, but these two are my favorites. The first is “Home” (Track #8). It’s Zimmer pounding you into submission. The beat is relentless for over three minutes and then it’s as if the dark clouds part and the sun comes out, Zimmer unleashes a heavenly instrumentation (still all synthesizers) that makes you feel saved. In the film, this is when things are blackest and “Home” comes for the men on Dunkirk. There is more of “Home” in “Variation 15” (Track #10), much of which is applied to Tom Hardy’s final moments in the film. As a single piece of music, “Home”, ranks up there with Zimmer’s “Journey to the Line” from The Thin Red Line. Easily one of his best.
“Supermarine” (Track #4), is my second favorite in the score. It is the race against time track where we find all of the characters moving as fast as they can to do all that they can against the Germans. This is the longest track on the album, coming in at 8:03, and is the ticking clock to the ninth degree in the film. Most, if not all, of Dunkirk is mood music. “Supermarine” is the action piece to Zimmer’s work and the one that will get your heart pounding. Listen to it below.
Dunkirk, the film, will likely get a ton of nominations at the Academy Awards. Hopefully, Zimmer will get the nomination he so rightfully deserves for his contribution. I recently had the chance to see Hans Zimmer Live and was saddened to not hear anything from Dunkirk at the show. It was literally the day after the film premiered, but by the time Zimmer performed The Lion King (a show stopper), I felt that Dunkirk wasn’t what the show needed. In fact, perfection doesn’t really need anything.
- The Mole
- We Need Our Army Back
- Shivering Soldier
- The Tide
- Regimental Brothers
- The Oil
- Variation 15 (Dunkirk)
- End Titles