I am not a huge fan of war movies. In fact, most of the time I avoid them because I always feel that it plays up the characters too much, and it becomes over dramatic and over emotional. However, I do enjoy watching Christopher Nolan’s movies (with my favorites being “Memento”, “The Prestige”, and “The Dark Knight”), and I enjoy learning about anything that has to do with World War II. So it was only natural that I decided to watch this movie ever since it was first announced. However, I had no idea what to truly expect when I entered the cinema to watch this movie, and coming out of it, I thought it was probably one of the best war movies that I have ever seen.
“Dunkirk” tells the combined story of what happened during the historical events of the Evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, from the point of view of the soldiers stranded on the beach, the small civilian boats that were sent out to help in the rescue operations, and from the Royal Air Force pilots who helped provide air support during the evacuation effort.
These three narratives all focus on that particular event, and is told in a non-linear manner. The story of the soldiers on the beach covered one week, the civilian boats at sea covered one day, and the story of the Royal Air Force pilots covered one hour of the operation as they only had enough fuel for one hour in the air.
Of course, these events actually happened right after the Battle of Dunkirk, in which both French and British soldiers were forced to wait on the beaches of Dunkirk until they could be rescued. However, things were not easy as of course, the British government prioritized the lives of their own over the French.
In the end, historically speaking, even though Dunkirk was considered a military disaster, they were able to save almost 400,000 British soldiers, whom they needed home in order to defend their country from a German attack.
This movie boasted an ensemble cast of veteran actors and new comers alike; made use of practical effects; used a lot of extras; actual ships and boat, particularly the civilian vessels that were used in the evacuation effort; ad historically accurate planes for the dogfight sequences.
This film focused primarily on the spectacle of the event itself, so it is not surprising that there isn’t that much character depth to the main characters of the movie. However, this does not detract anything from it, as this movie was meant to make you relive and immerse yourself in this particular event. In line with this, it is not surprising that this film is as realistic as it could have been, and reminded me at times of a really well done documentary.
Aside from the spectacle, the acting in the movie is great as well. The dialogue is sparse but the actors make good use of their facial expressions to tell the audiences what is going on. Also, one should listen carefully to the score of the film, as it isn’t just an amazing score, it’s almost akin to sound design, as the score is able to incorporate everything, from the sounds of planes and gunshots, to heavy breathing and heartbeats to create a piece that literally keeps one on the edge of their seat the entire time.
This movie is currently being touted as Nolan’s best movie yet. While it isn’t my favorite Nolan movie, it is probably his best movie as he was able to pull this off, while breaking the mold a little bit when it comes to this particular genre. Also, he was amazingly able to pull off creating one of the most tense movies ever with a rating of PG-13.
So, if you are thinking of watching this movie, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you watch it at the cinema, so that you can get the full experience of the movie.
Now, you know the drill, before we get into specifics, stop reading now as there will be spoilers!
The narrative of this movie, which was told in different time frames and with different perspectives, can get confusing at times, especially when particular characters in the story begin to interact with each other, but it was the kind of confusion that you could easily get over and re-orient yourself after remembering the time frame of each particular narrative.
The first narrative that was presented was entitled “The Mole”, which, of course, got me confused a bit. I genuinely thought that it would be about a spy, and it turned out that a mole is a part of a beach, specifically, it was an area that most of the big navy ships could really get to because the water was to shallow, which was the reason why they called in a civilian fleet of smaller boats to help out.
This part covered one week, and it followed the main protagonist of the movie, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), who, after surviving the Battle of Dunkirk, goes to the beach of Dunkirk where all the other soldiers are.
There, he befriends a fellow soldier, who is later revealed to be French (Aneurin Barnard), and later saves Alex (Harry Styles) after a medical ship capsizes.
This narrative showed us how the Allied troops had no choice but to wait and be sitting ducks, especially when German planes dropped dive bombs on the beaches and the ships trying to make their home across the Channel.
It also showed how hard it was for their superior officers as well, and in this movie, it highlighted James D’Arcy’s Colonel Winnant and Kenneth Branagh’s Commander Bolton.
All of these actors, even the extras acted well, from the coordination of them all dropping to the ground, to them actually acting without relying on any dialogue at all. This, for me was refreshing, because you didn’t need them to scream or shout to know what they are feeling or seeing, but you could just feel it from their eyes.
I was very impressed by Styles, especially after discovering that Nolan didn’t know who he really was when he auditioned for the movie.
The second narrative focuses on a particular civilian boat manned by Mark Rylance’s Mr. Dawson, his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and Barry Koghan’s George Mills, and covers one day of the evacuation operation.
Along the way, they rescue a soldier (Cillian Murphy), whose PTSD causes the unfortunate death of George, and a downed Royal Air Force pilot named Collins (Jack Lowden).
Instead of the broad beach of Dunkirk, this was a little bit more of an intimate drama, that later on culminates with them helping rescue the stranded soldiers, and in particular, Alex and Tommy.
Later, after the soldiers are returned home, Peter fulfills George’s dying wish by having his picture printed in the local newspaper, touting him as a local hero for volunteering to be part of the rescue operations.
The third narrative, which covers one hour, is a spectacle of aerial dog fights and a rather tense sequenced of Collins almost drowning in his downed plane.
This segment follows Collins and Tom Hardy’s Farrier. As we know, Collins ends up on Dawson’s boat, but Farrier is able to power through, despite fuel running low, and helps save the day by downing a German plane while the soldiers were evacuating onto the civilian ships.
Unfortunately, his plane ends up landing on an occupied part of Dunkirk, and sets his plane on fire before being taken in by German soldiers.
Aside from the acting, I also mentioned that the score was almost akin to sound design. This is because running at the background, regardless of whether or not there was music, was the continuous sound of a heartbeat pounding, which was sometimes replaced by the frantic ticking of a clock. This kept you on edge the entire time until Tommy falls asleep on the train back home, signifying that everything is okay now, for the most part.
“Dunkirk” is a triumph in film making as Nolan was able to pull off doing all of this in a movie that defies convention with sparse dialogue, and with an effort to put the main focus of the movie the event itself, which was a triumph of human spirit.
In the end, “Dunkirk” is definitely a movie that everyone should see, but, you should see it at a cinema and not at home, unless you do have a large flat screen and a great sound system that knocks the socks out of any cinema sound system out there. This is definitely a movie that doesn’t just need to be watched- it needs to be experienced.
Did you like “Dunkirk”? What did you like or not like about it? Do you think that this is Nolan’s best movie yet? Why or why not? Let me know what you think in the comments below!