Review: Dunkirk

After his mind bending, out there space epic Interstellar, Christopher Nolan is back with a movie based on actual events, Dunkirk.

Taking place in 1940, the British and French armies are pushed out of Europe by the Germans and 400,000 men are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk in France awaiting evacuation to Britain.  British higher-ups only believe they can get/need 30,000 and only a few naval ships are deployed to support the evacuation, leaving most of the men on the beach desperate for any way out.  The movie follows three different stories, each of which, in typical Nolan fashion, are set at different time frames.  A trio of young British troops (Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard) are on the beach of Dunkirk trying to escape for a week, a civilian boat owner (Mark Rylance) spends a day trying to get to Dunkirk with his son and another local by and a fighter pilot (Tom Hardy) spends an hour fighting the German planes bombing beaches and boats trying to get out.  The movie intercuts between each story and they all converge toward the climax but it’s not nearly the brain melting complexity of Inception and it mostly just results in you seeing say, Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot flying over Mark Rylance’s boat and then seeing the same scene from Rylance’s perspective later.  The movie is incredibly relentless and combined with the most oppressive score I think I’ve ever heard from Hans Zimmer, it really makes you feel as on edge as the characters of the movie and there’s never a moment where you can sit back and relax until the very end.  The main issue with the movie however, is that you don’t really connect to any of the characters except maybe Rylance or Hardy just because they’re the most recognizable faces but that’s the only reason.  It’s a very clinical war movie that just mercilessly plunges forward but it lacks the emotional connection of something like Saving Private Ryan, where you really get to know the guys of that squad. There’s also some fairly far fetched things that happen especially toward the end that, correct me if I’m wrong history fans, but I don’t believe have any basis in reality, especially with Hardy’s fighter pilot.

On a technical level, Dunkirk is another visual Swiss watch from Nolan.  Everything feels precisely shot and edited exactly how Nolan wanted it  and, combined with the score, really makes you feel the tension and desperation of the situation.  Since this first phase of the war was basically over and the Allies had been broken, there’s not any huge scale battlefield sequences like you would get in the aforementioned Saving Private Ryan or last year’s Hacksaw Ridge but when the beach is attacked by bombers, it’s pretty terrifying, especially when the sound design ramps up the German bombers engine noise to almost unbearable levels.  All of Tom Hardy’s dogfighting sequences are incredible as well and the way the fighter planes are shot is some of the best aerial combat I’ve seen, definitely in the last few years and maybe of all time.

If you’re a fan of Nolan, this is another technical gem from the director and it sets a tone of relentless tension that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before thanks to the way the movie is edited and Zimmer’s insane score.  If you need a more emotional connection to characters, you probably won’t get that here but if you want to see a visually striking depiction of an event most of us don’t know about, definitely check out Dunkirk.

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