Dunkirk Movie Review
Papers float down from the air with a clear visual of German military printed on nearly all sides of the page with arrows pointing to the center reading, “We Surround You.” Allied soldiers from Belgium, The British Empire, and France are the “You” that is surrounded. DUNKIRK uniquely tells a riveting story of the heroic sacrifice, devastating loss, and drive for survival during the evacuation of the allied soldiers from Dunkirk, France during World War II.
The allies are backed up against the coast of the English Channel. In long lines across the beach, men wait their turn to be evacuated by ship. As they wait, German fighter planes are picking off the men and dropping explosives. Once on a British Destroyer, safety is not certain. While still being attacked from above, rescue ships are being taken out from U-boats from under the water.
DUNKIRK has an interesting approach to the action. Told in three distinct stories, DUNKIRK follows a varying timeline through land, sea and air. The first follows a soldier (Fionn Whitehead) on land trying to be evacuated, or rather survive and escape, with others over the course of “One Week.” The second follows civilians at sea, a man (Oscar winner Mark Rylance) and two boys (Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan) heading across the Channel from Dover in a small boat hoping to rescue all who they can over the course of “One Day.” The third follows two fighter pilots (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden) doing what they can in the air to keep the enemy from killing their fellow men and bombing their boats over the course of “One Hour.” All three stories eventually merge into one.
The unique approach in storytelling, masterfully intensifies the situation by giving different perspectives within the same moment of battle. DUNKIRK doesn’t offer the typical lead character to follow. Nor does the drama unfold in a traditional sense of a war film. Conversely, a more symbolic approach is taken where the few characters who are followed represent the many and their wide variety of individual experiences in the same terrifying situation. The dialogue is limited, allowing the action and creative editing to tell the story and immersing the viewer in an unexpected way.
Director and writer Christopher Nolan is no amateur to delivering clever, exciting thrillers. This time he sets his artistic talent on visually depicting the horrors of war and the resilience of the human spirit. With the help of an unrelenting score from long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer and the incredibly immersive cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema (HER, INTERSTELLAR), the tension never lets up in DUNKIRK. Editor Lee Smith pulls off an amazing achievement as the film regularly jumps from one story to the next in fluctuating timelines and speeds up the pace before the pulsating action from each collide into one.
During flight, I felt my head turning with fighter planes, either to avoid being shot or trying to line up the target myself. While in the water, I felt myself gripping my chair and shifting helplessly, hoping to catch a breath. On land, my chin instinctively tucked, hoping to avoid the incoming fire. Throughout the experience, I’d ask myself what I might do or wonder how I would hold up in a certain situation trying to survive.
Rated PG-13, DUNKIRK is affectively minimal in blood and violence from a mostly unseen enemy through a gripping and epic 106-minute runtime. It’s not just the visual element, which should be experienced in IMAX or 70mm format, the film manages to land a couple of quietly emotional blows as well. DUNKIRK is a powerful film with an original vision that left my heart pounding and my mind racing long after I left the theater.