Review: Dunkirk

Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh
Genre:  Action, Drama, History
Rating: PG-13
Christopher Nolan at the helm of a WWII drama? I’m in. Ever since seeing “Saving Private Ryan,” I gravitate to gritty war flicks. There is something about the raw emotions and graphic nature of war (which is often glossed over in history classes) that is captured in film. I’m looking forward to watching a couple of my favorite actors, Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh, and bringing a bunch of tissues for the tears. Some of those boys being portrayed were sons and husbands, fathers and brothers. I have a feeling this movie will evoke strong emotions.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Set during one day in WWII, this movie has its fair share of violent war images. What may prove harder to watch than the violence is the ways any man will use to survive. There is very little blood/gore, but there is a lot of death.
Language/Crude Humor: British slang cuss words are rare. One man mouths F*** and another says it aloud. S*** is used a few times, and both God and Jesus have their names used in vain.
Spiritual Content: Unless you count the reading of Winston Churchill’s speech at the end of the film, none.
Sexual Content:  None.
Drug/Alcohol References: Some soldiers drink beer.
Positive Content: Both civilians and airmen place themselves directly in enemy sights when they risk their own lives to save 400,000 stranded troops. Their selflessness is positively heroic.

Review

So many things are missed during history lessons in school, and the miracle at Dunkirk was one of them for me. I’m drawn to the brave stories of soldiers who are against all odds, and Dunkirk certainly fit that category. 400,000 men had no hope or chance of survival as the Germans pushed them through the town of Dunkirk to the open beach. Left in the open, the soldiers waited for ships to sail them home—within sight from the beach. But hemmed in from the land, air, and U-boats in the water, the battalions of Dunkirk should never have made it home.
There is a distinct lack of dialogue that lends weight to this film. The desperate fight for life takes precedence over the need to talk it out. Instead of rambling monologues, Christopher Nolan plucks a heartstring of emotion and then thrusts the viewer into war, never stopping to feel—exactly how an actual war moves. Several stories run parallel, converging to perfection, as different lives clash together. The pace is frantic, from the first to the last shot. And that last shot is worth a million words, although there are none.  Newcomer Fionn Whitehead plays the film’s main character, Tommy. He is so small and vulnerable, and captures the essence of many of the inexperienced soldiers that fought in WWII. Still, the amount of dialogue he has is stunted, so he beautifully transforms his actions into words, a true testament of his skills. Tom Hardy has less than ten lines for all of his screen time, but his character embodies bravery. While I thought Harry Styles would be a misstep in terms of casting, he wasn’t half-bad. Kenneth Branagh inhabited his role, like so many others he plays, as the commander who knows the harbinger of death has arrived for his troops in the form of the German army. Mark Rylance’s portrayal as Mr. Dawson, the first to heed the civilian call, personified the quiet dignity of the British citizens whose own sons were called to war. He sees the troops as sons.
Nolan relies heavily on real sets and props for a majority of this film, and it translates into some of the most terrifying and realistic war scenes I’ve seen. He used real naval destroyers instead of CGI for the battle sequences on the open sea. You feel like you’re smelling the smoke from a fire or drowning in the sea. The costuming was spot on, as well as the filming locations, from the foam beach to the heinously crowded navy rescue boats.
Legendary Hans Zimmer lent a seamless composition to the film. It never caused a distraction and blended well with Nolan’s directing style. Together, they pull the viewer into a moment and rip them away to another.
I went in expecting to cry buckets of tears for the men of Dunkirk, but I only teared up a few times. I was so busy watching the film, putting the plotlines together, and enjoying the story, that I wasn’t left a disheveled mess. Nolan’s heavy hand in drama versus the emotion was well-suited for this exact moment in history. Even the portrayal of the civilians called to action was handled with professional care. They had their own stories to tell, and Nolan let the glimpses shine through. This is a movie everyone should see, to remind them hope, like love, is a powerful thing.

Positives

+ Miracles happen. When everything has gone wrong, when nothing is left, there were still selfless British civilians to rescue 400,000 men.

Negatives

- The human nature to survive is a strong thing. It'll come at the expense of another. And in war, all bets are off.

The Bottom Line

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan's masterpiece, to date. It's not easy to watch young men, practically teenagers, in war, but this story is well worth your time.

 

9.8

Sarah Bennett

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