Facebook Twitter

DUNKIRK: 4 ½ STARS. “first potential Best Picture nomination of the year.”

“Dunkirk,” the new war epic from director Christopher Nolan, could be one of those rare movies—rare like a unicorn or a modest Kardashian—that comes out in the summer and earns a Best Picture nomination. It is a complete cinematic experience, immersive, intense showing us things rather than telling us things.

From its haunting opening shot of five British soldiers on patrol, propaganda leaflets fluttering in the air around them, “Dunkirk” establishes itself as a high gloss look at one of the seminal events in military history. A minute later when gunfire erupts it becomes an intimate, you-are-there experience, placing the viewer in the middle of the action.

Opening credits set the stage. In the early stages of the Second World War the German Army drove the British, Belgium, Canada armies to the sea. “Dunkirk is where they will meet their fate. They are hoping for deliverance, hoping to find a miracle.” Between May 26 and June 4, 1940 allied soldiers were evacuated from the beset beach in Operation Dynamo.

Using a fractured timeline director Christopher Nolan brings three different facets of the story together. First is The Mole, the long stone and wooden jetty at the mouth of the port where Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Alex (Harry Styles) stow away on an evacuation ship.

Second is The Sea, and the story of Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), a British mariner, who like many others piloted his pleasure craft through dangerous waters to help transport stranded soldiers from the beach in France.

Third is the battle in the air, lead by Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy).

With a minimum of dialogue, electrifying visuals and ear-splitting sound design—the rumble of the spit fire engines will make your chest shake—Nolan has made a movie best seen large and loud. He uses the power of the image to create an immersive cinematic experience that offers up not only vicarious thrills but also ethical dilemmas, honour and personal drama. It is not a typical war movie. You never see the Germans and there is no victory march at the end. Instead it is a large-scale examination of the workings of war and warriors that blends epic filmmaking with intimate character work.

Best of the bunch are Cillian Murphy as a shell-shocked soldier rescued from the sea, haunted by what he has seen and Rylance who redefines stiff upper lip. The all-British cast of relative unknowns who make up the bulk of the evacuees shine a light on how young and inexperienced were the soldiers on that beach.

“Dunkirk” is an intense movie but it is not an overly emotional one. The cumulative effect of the vivid images and sounds will stir the soul but despite great performances the movie doesn’t necessarily make you feel for one character or another. Instead its strength is in how it displays the overwhelming sense of scope of the Dunkirk mission. With 400,000 men on the ground with more in the air and at sea, the sheer scope of the operation overpowers individuality, turning the focus on the collective. Nolan’s sweeping camera takes it all in, epic and intimate moments alike.

Dunkirk inspired Winston Churchill’s famous, “We shall fight on the beaches,” speech, words brought to poignant life in the film’s closing moments by Whitehead in one of the movie’s smaller moments. That speech describes reaching for victory, “however long and hard the road may be,” a journey brilliantly and memorably chronicled in the film.

Comments are closed.