Coming to theaters from writer/director Christopher Nolan and Warner Brothers is a story that tells of the dangers, the ravages and the bravery of those at “Dunkirk.”
Let’s begin with a tad bit of history behind the film’s story. It is World War II in 1940 and the Germans have pushed their soldiers into Northern France and Belgium. Allied forces are trapped on the beach as bombardment comes from both land and sea. There are almost 400,000 troops on the shores with no where to go.
The larger military vessels were under constant attack and sunk with devastating losses of life. Across the channel were smaller boats consisting of fishing boats, merchant marines, personal boats, speed boats, ferry’s and even life boats that took to the call to rescue soldiers. Over 800 of these boats made it to the beaches of Dunkirk and a mass evacuation would come to be known as the Miracle of Dunkirk.
Christopher Nolan has brought this incredible story to the screen and it is grand, beautiful and heart stopping. The audience is taken into the story from land, air and sea as filming began in Dunkirk, France. In his style, “Dunkirk” is filmed in IMAX 70 mm film with the score of the incredible Hans Simmer.
On the beach, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) is the ranking officer attempting to get the men off the beaches of Dunkirk along with Colonel Winnart (James D’Arcy). As each ship leaves, it is met with either U-boat fire or planes dropping artillery either killing the men or putting them back in the water.
Soldiers Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Alex (Harry Styles) attempt time and time again to find a way off the beach. Finally making it onto a ship, they do not get far before they are back in the water and headed to shore where bombs are going off.
In the air is Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farrier (Tom Hardy), two Royal Air Force pilots who are hell bent on keeping the enemy off their fellow soldiers. Their fuel consumption is of concern but they will not stop until they take out the danger.
Across the channel, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and their family friend George (Barry Keoghan) take off for Dunkirk. Knowing what needs doing, Dawson has the knowledge not only of the Channel but of how to handle the enemy. The crew finds their first shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) sitting on the turned over hull of a sunken ship. D’Arcy as Col. Winnart follows by example keeping the soldiers as calm as possible.
From air, sea and land the struggle for survival is moment by moment under circumstances that are unimaginable.
I have to start with Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson; there is something about this actor that I believe from the moment he speaks. As this character, Rylance is the strong silent type who knows what needs to be done and doesn’t need to be told how to do it. Watching how he explains things to Peter and George, this character gets every ounce of the audiences trust. When they have their own problem on board, Mr. Dawson keeps the atmosphere calm in the emotional storm.
Hardy as pilot Farrier is straight on point and although I had a Bane moment (please stop putting stuff over his face!), it is a minor point because everything you need to know is found in this actors eyes. The message is clear ‘do what you must to save as many as you can’ and his actions are evident. Lowden as pilot Collins is equally as powerful to watch and gives a suspenseful scene that needs to be talked about later.
Whitehead as Tommy and Styles as Alex are two very young men that are trying anything to get off the beach. It just breaks the heart to see these two young men and as clever as they are, it is living from one moment to the next. Well done performances by both of these young men.
Branagh as Commander Bolton stands tall for his men even when he knows that the clock is ticking — literally. Having to change tactics quickly, he is the strong face for the men to follow. Murphy as the shocked soldier is intense and frightening because of his unpredictability. Glynn-Carney is strong as Peter as he learns the price of war along with Keoghan as George playing a character I can’t even begin to talk about.
Other performances that need recognition are Damien Bonnard as the French Soldier, Aneurin Barnard as Gibson, Lee Armstrong as Grenadier, Will Attenborough as Second Lieutenant, Richard Sanderson as Heinkel Spotter and so many, many more.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give “Dunkirk” five tubs of popcorn out of five. There isn’t a massive amount of dialogue and I didn’t need it. The ensemble of actors brought out every emotion without saying much at all. “Dunkirk” is an intense experience as the volume, literally, of the film is pure cinema.
Yes, it is a film of war and there is no doubt in every flicker of film of it being anything else. Nolan meshes the inescapability of war with the human story with a cast that gives the audience a heart stopper that will not stop from start to finish.
I tell you now that the film is so powerful and strong that you will leave the theater drained both physically and emotionally. The visceral moments that take us so deep that there was one moment during a water scene when I realized I was holding my breath!
Hans Zimmer brings on an epic score that will not let us all get away. At the screening I saw for myself what an amazing score does to people. There is a moment where a clock is ticking, which by the way is the sound of Christopher Nolan’s watch, and people were putting their hands on their chest or over their mouths knowing something was coming.
“Dunkirk” is cinematically stunning and beautiful which seems weird to say considering it is a war film with human causalities. In that is the exquisite gift that director Nolan seems to have and I hope he never changes it. His films give us a duality we are forced to reckon with. “Dunkirk” gives us that with the defeat of battle but the pyrrhic victor of humanity.
In the end — when 400,000 men couldn’t get home, home came for them!