★★★ out of ★★★★
The year is 1940 and thousands of allied troops are surrounded on all sides by Germans on the French land of Dunkirk. Hope is fleeting but by sheer will they fight on.
Christopher Nolan’s latest film tells a non-linear tale of how men, by air, by sea and on land, all fight for survival. The action on the land is seen over a week long period, that on the sea for a day, and the fighters in the air for an hour. The movie splices these three segments together at random until they all three meet up at the same place.
And that’s what this movie has going for it. It’s unique. Also, most war movies are seen from the American side; this one is from the British side. Most war films also follow a single character. This follows a story of three different men on individual journeys.
Most movies allow us to get to know our characters, but Dunkirk does not. You’d think that’d be a bad thing but it isn’t. It emphasizes the chaos and confusion of war. All we know about our leads is their motivation… get out of Dunkirk and help others do the same.
Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) does anything he can to escape. From hiding, to taking wounded men to ships, he’ll do anything to get home. Only problem is the consistent German shelling that keeps the men from getting away safely. That’s where our other boys come in.
Meet fighter pilot Ferrier (Tom Hardy). He’s a suave and daring man whose dogfighting throughout the film saves lives and provides some of the best action sequences we see.
But there’s a problem, the Germans aren’t just attacking by land but by sea as well. Remember learning about U-Boats? Yeah those sneaky Germans consistently torpedo the ships making it impossible for anyone to get off safely. Thankfully the heart of the movie, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), swings into action. He’s an everyday citizen who uses his miniscule sailboat to save the boys. You see it’s easy for a German plane and U-Boat to attack huge ships since they make easy targets. But those little sailboats from citizens like Mr. Dawson are much shiftier and more stealth in size. It’s crazy to think the logic from the board game Battleship holds true in real life.
Something else that separates Dunkirk from other war films is the limited dialogue. It’s refreshing that we get to focus on the amazing sound editing, fantastic score (Hans Zimmer) and acting, with very few words. Many of the actors rely upon their eyes and body language to illustrate their emotions. Even Harry Styles of One Direction fame gets in on the fun, performing brilliantly.
And let’s give it up for Nolan who provides a surprisingly short, but thrilling film, leaving audiences satisfied and wanting more at the same time.
The Good: It’s an immersive movie experience that takes you to the beaches thanks to shaky cam, POV shots and limited dialogue. Make sure you go into a theater that’ll play Dunkirk with the volume to 11 because nothing beats the terrifying sounds of bullets whizzing by and ships exploding.
The Bad: It’s likely not one of the all-time war classics. It just doesn’t have enough substance to put it in that upper echelon of war movies.
Final Word: Dunkirk is a movie where talented filmmakers make it look easy. On the surface, this is a movie with explosions and nothing more…but there’s a message. You can be a daring pilot or an ordinary citizen with a sailboat. It doesn’t matter, because anyone can be a hero at Dunkirk.
Starring Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Kenneth Branagh. Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language.