Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, James D'Arcy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan, and Harry Styles
In the chaos and confusion during an evacuation of more than 300,000 British and Allied Forces from the shores of France in director Christopher Nolan's World War II film "Dunkirk", one soldier tells another "Survival is not fair". Indeed, with the shores of England so close, safety for the Allied Forces was still far from being achieved.
For those keen on history, you'll understand why the Battle of France, specifically the Battle of Dunkirk and Operation Dynamo, are such unique historical pieces. Forced into the option of surrendering or dying; the Allied Forces, having been surrounded by German Troops, where defeated. However, neither surrender or complete destruction happened, as an evacuation from the beach saved many lives.
Film has a funny way of changing how one perceives historical events, the lens of cinema can paint new pictures and compose narratives in ways that alter the true significance of what happened in the past. Christopher Nolan, understanding of this concept, dramatizes "Dunkirk"; looking at the state of the war through the fictionalized eyes of people on land, in the air, and on the water but keeping the time, dates, and events of the war intact. In doing this Mr. Nolan has crafted an immersive experience, a war film that has all the technical aptitude the director has built his career upon but also the emotional quality associated with the aspect of a soldier's survival.
We are provided perspective through three different characters; a father (Mark Rylance) and son (Tom Glynn-Carney) traveling across the water directly into threatening territory, a soldier on land (Fionn Whitehead) who narrowly escapes the enemy and tries by numerous means to board a ship to get off the beach, and a pilot(Tom Hardy) engaging in dog fights in an attempt to offer the soldiers some safe passage. Mr. Nolan ingeniously interweaves these stories together, seamlessly and without recognition of specific time during the battle. One might think this non-linear aspect of storytelling would be confusing or frustrating to keep up with, the director has already done this once with the film "Memento", but it effectively sustains an unsuspecting quality which helps keep the tension building throughout the film and reinforcing the overwhelming nature of war in which violence and death can strike at any time.
There is very little dialogue in the film aside from a few key moments that help in establishing the events and decisions during the historical aspects of the battle, what fills these silent moments are actions that bring the viewer further into the atmosphere of the film. The photography is gorgeous and bleak, a wash of grey and blue with an impressive scope accommodated through wide angles but also through unique camera perspectives like a cockpit view from a Spitfire combat plane or a tracking shot that follows two soldiers carrying a wounded soldier along the shoreline.
To assist the picture is a unique composition from frequent Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer. With a mix of strong bass notes that never seems to stop rattling the walls of the theater, to building crescendos of atmospheric sounds that serve to heighten the stimulation overload, and even in one scene the matching of a ticking stop watch with the music, it's unwieldy at times but also completely effective in making you more anxious about everything happen on the screen. It echoes the ominous nature of survival, especially when the enemy is on the verge of capturing or killing one another.
The performances are also a great attribution, Fionn Whitehead embodies the toil of survival, Cillian Murphy effective displays the traumatic nature of war, and Tom Hardy tells an entire emotional arc with his eyes. Add Kenneth Branagh as a Commander who refuses to say "surrender" and Mark Rylance as a determined citizen dangerously doing his part to help his country, and the result is impressively composed.
"Dunkirk", at mere 106 minutes and without the overwhelming effect of violence that a R rating would establish, could be Christopher Nolan's best directed film. It's a phenomenal survival film that has an exceptional technical quality and rousing unexpected heart. Mr. Nolan proves again why he is one of best directors to do the job.
5.00 out of 5.00