Movie Review: Dunkirk
Director Christopher Nolan’s newest project, Dunkirk, was released this weekend and is already opening to rave reviews. Based on some of the actual events of the Battle of Dunkirk during World War II, the film follows the evacuation of 330,000 men from the French shore. The film features the points of view from the land, the sea, and the air for different amounts of time. It also features a variety of actors in each section including Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, and Kenneth Branagh.
As the film begins, German flyers are floating downward to taunt the remaining British and French soldiers. After escaping fire from the enemy, Fionn Whitehead’s Tommy returns to the beach where thousands of men stand by hoping to be evacuated. Tommy and another young man, Gibson, keep searching for different ways to get off the perilous beach during their screen time. On the sea, private citizens’ boats are being seized to evacuate soldiers from the shore and ferry them to larger destroyers. Mark Rylance’s Mr. Dawson decides to take his craft without the presence of the British Navy. He, his son, and their teenage hand, George, travel through treacherous circumstances in the hopes of rescuing men from the shore or the sea along the way. Lastly, we also have Tom Hardy’s Farrier and Jack Lowden’s Collins flying for the British Air Force. Their objective is to take down some of the German bombers, who are wrecking havoc on various ships and soldiers still on the beach.
To begin, I must say that Dunkirk is a unique film. While the introductions to each section says that the land movements unfold over the course of a week, the sea movements take place over the course of a day, and the air events take place over an hour, it’s hard to keep that straight while watching it. Each sequence is edited in such a way that I forgot at times that I wasn’t watching the events in a linear fashion. I struggled with that during certain parts, but I am pleased to say that all the events come together in the end for a satisfying resolution.
While our time with these characters was fractured, I found all of these performances to be outstanding. Cillian Murphy’s short role embodied the stress and mindset of the shell-shocked soldier. Tom Hardy’s Farrier embodied the determination and sacrifice associated with a soldier. Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, and Harry Styles each portray the fear and panic of those who are trapped and show how desperation prompts every one of their actions. Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan were all incredible as common men wanting to make a difference. Rylance, especially, was captivating as he fearlessly navigates his boat and provides perspective to all the events surrounding them. Even Kenneth Branagh’s short role as an officer is one defined by wisdom, bravery, and humility.
In addition to their performances and what they represented, the story itself is interesting as you focus on each viewpoint. There’s not an overwhelming amount of dialogue, but it’s not necessary. So much is conveyed through their facial expressions, and after experiencing that kind of trauma, I don’t imagine a lot of words would be needed. Nolan captures that sense, and he makes the audience feel the tension, helplessness, fear, and desperation of every soldier on that beach at Dunkirk.
The story and characters are made all the more captivating through the visual effects and sound effects accentuated in the movie. The aerial shots in particular were mind-blowing, and for all but one scene at the end, I literally could not tell where the CG began and the practical effects ended. Also, every gunshot and explosion seemed louder and larger than life throughout the film. This effect left the audience feeling as if they too were a part of this war and in as much danger as the characters they were watching.
Overall, I really do love what Christopher Nolan accomplished with this film through his unique approach. He captured the devastation and fear that permeated the situation, and he also sprinkled in hope through the valiant acts of so many, including the private citizens who sailed to the rescue. It only confirms for me that Christopher Nolan is indeed a master storyteller. If you have not checked out Dunkirk yet, you should experience this narrative while it’s still on the big screen.