There is only a select few who know what actual terrors war brings. The heaviest of weights placed on a person’s shoulders and the scars those weights leave can be difficult to portray through film. War films also portray the heroism and bravery a person can pull from the depths of their characters that a person never knew existed. These films not only teach us the history of the world we all should remember but introduce us to humans who find that willpower to stop at nothing to survive against the tallest of odds. Who doesn’t love a good war epic?
Speaking for myself, I know I love and appreciate a good war film. Even with the abundance of films in the genre, every single one offers a different perspective of war itself. This film is no different. Dunkirk offers us a different point of view from one of undervalued human emotion: fear. Yes, this film also shows us courage and bravery, but the fear used as the tool to show a different point of view presents a full scope of war films other have poked at but have not unlocked the full potential of those emotions. This fill gives us the full spectrum.
During the second world war, British allied troops are pushed back all the way to Dunkirk. A group of soldiers get ambushed by German soldiers leaving only one survivor, a young man named Tommy. He retreats to the beach were thousands of soldiers are stranded awaiting departure. Tommy meets a fellow soldier Gibson who is burying a body in the sand. In the distance, enemy dive bombers attack the beach leaving many dead. Tommy and Gibson see this as an opportunity to sneak on a hospital ship that is ready to bring the wounded home. Tommy is able to save another soldier Alex by getting crushed.
Before the destroyer they get on is ready to leave, Tommy and Gibson attempt to sneak back on but, the destroyer is torpedoed by a German submarine sinking the ship. The Royal Navy calls for any civilian vessel that can assist with the extraction of their troops off the beach and out of Dunkirk. A civilian sailor named Dawson and his son Peter has their vessel looked at by the Navy to be commandeered. Dawson’s assistant George impulsively joins as they set out before the Navy can stop them. On their journey to Dunkirk, Dawson, Peter, and George come across a stranded soldier suffering from shell shock.
The soldier (Cillian Murphy) realizes the ship is heading for Dunkirk, attempts to wrestle for control of the boat from Dawson (Mark Rylance) knocks George (Barry Keoghan) in the head, causing George to go blind. In the air, three Air Force pilots fly over the English channel to Dunkirk. Their task is to act as a defense of the evacuation of the beach at Dunkirk. While in route to Dunkirk the leader gets shot down in a dog fight and the pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) assumes command while the third pilot is shot down while able to ditch his Spitfire.
Dawson’s son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) spots the fallen Spitfire rescuing Collins (Jack Lowden) from the sinking plane. On the beach, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), Alex (Harry Styles) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) spot a group of soldiers heading to an abandoned ship that has been beached in the intertidal zone. The plan is to wait for the tide to come in bring the ship out to refloat it. Shots come through the side of the trawler rushing water into the vessel. Thinking that the boat being lighter would stop the sinking, Alex volunteers Gibson to remove himself from the boat since he has been mute the entire time.
The group accuses Gibson of being a German spy only to be found out to be a French soldier who took a British soldiers dog tags – the one he was burying earlier on the beach. The group has no choice but to abandon the boat as it starts to sink faster. Gibson unfortunately becomes entangled in a chain and drowns with the sinking ship. Nearby, a minesweeper gets hit by a dive bomber and sinks spilling oil into the water. The Moonstone (Dawson’s vessel) is able to finesse itself to rescue soldiers that have been covered in oil by Peter and the shell shocked soldier.
The soldier asks how George is doing but Peter replies that George is doing fine and is comfortable knowing that George has just died. Among the rescued on the Moonstone is Tommy and Alex who nearly escape being burned alive by Ferrier gunning down enemy dive bombers. Ferrier’s plane runs out of fuel and shoots down more bombers as he reaches the beaches. He lands beyond the perimeter of the friendly zone, sets fire to his plane, and gets taken hostage by the Germans saving 300,000 British soldiers. The soldiers on their way to safety receive a hero’s welcome as they pull into the Woking train station.
When a new Christopher Nolan film is announced, the hype surrounding that film is massive as we wait with bated breath to see what he can pull off in the film. That said, when Dunkirk was announced we all, me included lost our minds. A war film from the guy who gave us Inception, Memento and Interstellar. What more does he have up his sleeve? As a fan of anything going into a brand new film expecting it to be similar to a previous film is not the way to go. It wasn’t that I was going into this film with that same mindset, this film didn’t grab me the first time I saw it. The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies (top 10 of all time) so it would be automatic that I would gravitate toward this film right? Wrong. First time seeing this, Dunkirk wasn’t appealing to me. Fairly sure I saw it in IMAX as well, but I didn’t like it, I was extremely disappointed.
I didn’t understand the direction Nolan took with this film. I also couldn’t get past the density of the accents – all the dialogue sounded muffled to me which took me out of the movie and the experience itself. That said, seeing this movie for a second time on a slightly smaller screen with subtitles (I’d recommend it if you feel the same way) I loved this movie. Dunkirk uses the lack of dialogue to its advantage as the storytelling is in the cinematography and emotion it elicits. That’s that point Nolan was attempting to get across, the visuals will tell the story and that’s what I never understood the first time.
This film is visually stunning, and the cinematography is gorgeous from all points of view: land, sea, and air. The tenseness of the minimal dialogue works as the emotion given from the actors is in their body language and facial expressions. The use of fear throughout is utilized perfectly. It does help that some of the characters are cowards, but the way Nolan portrays that fear in them to escape a dangerous place pushes them to keep trying to escape. The run time is ideal for this film, its not too long where if feels never ending and drawn out. The dialogue pushes the acting to a higher levels which in turn tells a better story.
The pacing is unbelievable as the story is told from three different vantage points. The Mastermind in Nolan pulls that off with precision not failing to miss the continuity of tying everything together. The storytelling is skillful and precise the way it weaves so much complexity through the survivors stories. Dunkirk is a work of art, its bold that it doesn’t follow the cookie cutter template all war films follows, it relies on spectacle and emotion rather than action sequences of battles. It tells the tales of true heroism from people who aren’t equipped to fight the way a soldier fights while still painting the picture of how horrifying war actually is. If I were to rate Dunkirk, I’d rate it a 4 out of 5.
So, tell me guys, have you seen Dunkirk and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
Dunkirk Is written and directed by Christopher Nolan is Rated PG-13 and has an 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Dunkirk was released on July 21st, 2017 and has a runtime of 1 hour and 15 minutes. Dunkirk can be bought online by retailers including Vudu, Google and Itunes.