We have seen plenty of films about war. Some of those films, like Saving Private Ryan, are incredibly memorable and resonated well with audiences around the world. Dunkirk had an interesting buzz around it because this would be director Christopher Nolan’s (Memento, Inception, Dark Knight) first crack at subject matter such as this. Fans of Nolan know that he has an amazing way of capturing moments in an alluring visual style. If you are familiar with Nolan, then it should come as no surprise that he is in true form here. Delivering a film that is gripping, tension-filled, heartfelt, and visually stunning from the opening scene to the last.
As the title indicates, this film takes place in Dunkirk, one of the more significant locations during World War II. During this time, Allied French and British troops were being evacuated from Dunkirk just as Nazi forces were making their way in to take hold of the city. The French soldiers were literally pinned to the edge of the peninsula with the Nazi soldiers slowly making their way to them. Evacuation had to happen any way that it could, which means that troops were relying on land, sea, and air vessels to get them safely out of Dunkirk.
Nolan does a splendid job of taking the audience out of the theater and placing us right there with the soldiers. Scenes often happen abruptly, as we are placed with different soldiers at varying locations on Dunkirk. One particular story that stood out is the time we spend with Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Bernard). These two soldiers develop a friendship of necessity as they make their way onto two or three ships in desperate attempts to evacuate. The scenes of soldiers helplessly trapped in the bottom of sinking ships as sea water encases them is harrowing to see.
But the sea perspective is just one viewpoint that we get in this film. Nolan gives the perspectives of land, sea, and air; all the careful time and precision they need for you to immerse yourself in the many character predicaments. There are battles with Nazi forces by plane, as well as struggles of Allied Captains on the ground to organize and protect troops. Another pivotal part of the story is about civilians who took to the sea with their own boats to help evacuate troops. Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) are wonderful in this film. The way this story plays out with the father and son and their interactions with the troops is one of the most compelling in the film. Perhaps if the film has a weakness, it’s that the frantic pace and viewpoints don’t allow for connections with characters as much as I would’ve liked. However, this is a minor weakness considering that type of connection doesn't seem to be their focus.
Lastly, the Nazi enemy in the film is present, but not really visible as far as dialogue and people that portray them. It is clear that Nolan wanted this film to be more about survival and less about the philosophical aspects of WWII. The end result is an enjoyable experience that really never loses that sense of danger lurking at any moment, which is truly the victory of the film. This is easily one of the best films of the year and I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear it a lot around Oscar time.
92 death-defying escapes from a burning ship out of 100 (92%)