When you see the name Christopher Nolan on a movie, it generally means you’re in for an interesting, if not wild ride. While his latest film, Dunkirk, is a stark contrast from his recent films, Interstellar, Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy, it’s still very much a Christopher Nolan film. As a war movie, Dunkirk breaks almost all of the rules that audiences have come to expect from similar films, and in doing so places the audience right in the middle of the fear and tension these soldiers felt back in World War II.
Dunkirk is the true story of the rescue of nearly 400,000 Allied soldiers who were trapped on the beaches of the French city of Dunkirk. However, the film doesn’t go into the details of why the soldiers were trapped there, what the Germans were doing or anything else. It stays focused on the here and now, and keeps the attention of the audience squarely on the soldiers stranded on the beach and how they’re going to get home.
The individual players in Dunkirk are staples in most Christopher Nolan films, but this story isn’t about any one individual. There aren’t any character arcs that show someone grow from a shallow figure into a hero. Feats of heroism certainly occur, and an epic story is told with tragedy and triumph, but it’s not laid out in a nice neat little package like most other films would do.
Dunkirk offers three unique viewpoints of the rescue that all start at different times, but culminate at the same point. This may be a bit confusing to some moviegoers, but it works decently well once you understand what’s going on. Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is a soldier stranded on the Mole (the beach), whose journey started one week prior to the climax of the film. Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) takes his small boat from Dover, England over to Dunkirk to assist in the rescue. His journey begins one day before the events of the climax. Farrier (Tom Hardy) is an Allied pilot whose journey begins one hour before the climatic events.
The film bounces back and forth between all three of these storylines, sometimes shifting instantly from mid-day to the dark of night, as the situation these soldiers are in begins to unfold. Every single scene is filled to the brim with tension. Audiences will be on the edge of their seats wondering what’s going to happen next. The incredible Hans Zimmer score, coupled with expert editing and huge sweeping shots of the areas only add to the gut wrenching intensity of each scene. If you’ve seen the first trailer for Dunkirk that featured a group of soldiers on the docks, that duck down when an enemy plane nears, the tension from that scene is basically what you’ll feel throughout the entire film.
While the caliber of actors in Dunkirk is top notch, there aren’t a lot of lines to be spoken. Tom Hardy’s Farrier only has a handful of lines, but offers one of the most impactful performances of the film. Likewise, Cillian Murphy’s performance as an unnamed soldier has equally sparse dialogue, but delivers a convincing performance of a shattered human that will forever be haunted by the events of Dunkirk. These characters offer deep emotional storylines for the audience to follow, without the need for lengthy bouts of dialogue.
Dunkirk is an extremely well-crafted war film that avoids most of the gruesome violence, but still manages to tell an emotional tale of the rescue of over 330,000 Allied troops. It’s a far cry from Nolan’s typical sci-fi films that break the rules of reality, but this grounded, gritty Nolan is a sight to see. Dunkirk is easily the most intense film you’ll see this year, as it straddles the line between heroism and profound defeat.
Synopsis: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance
Runtime: 1 Hour, 46 Minutes