“Where are we going?” asks a shivering soldier (Cillian Murphy) who’s just been plucked from the sea. “Dunkirk,” replies Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), a local civilian boatman headed into the war zone to try and rescue as many British soldiers as he possibly can in Christopher Nolan’s brilliant war film, Dunkirk.
It’s May 1940 and Germany’s army has advanced into France, surrounding and trapping Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, France, and Poland on the beaches of Dunkirk. Desperate to save the 400,000 men so they can live to fight another day, the call goes out to every nearby seaworthy vessel. Civilian sailors are put on alert to head to sea to evacuate as many men as possible.
Writer/director Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk tells this remarkable true story by focusing on key individuals. Mr. Dawson, a civilian who takes his son and his son’s best friend aboard his boat headed to the beaches of Dunkirk, is shown as a completely committed individual who understands the horrors of war and sympathizes with the men who are trapped on the beach. Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh), the officer in charge of the evacuation, says little and instead lets his strong, unwavering determination to see to it the men return home guide his actions. Fighter pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) are shown as the only two airmen headed to Dunkirk to give cover to the sea vessels evacuating the troops as well as those still waiting to be rescued on the beach. And Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a British soldier desperate to escape certain death by almost any means necessary, adds a more human element to the war.
Powerful, riveting, and suspenseful, Nolan’s Dunkirk is masterfully crafted. The mesmerizing film is based on historical events and realistically portrays war, rescue, courage, desperation, fear, and bravery. It’s a stunning movie with breathtaking cinematography, strong performances, and groundbreaking visual effects including aerial dog fights that are sure to make the audience feel as though they’re in the cockpit with the pilots. Dunkirk grabs the audience from the opening scene and doesn’t ease up until the credits roll.
The cast is superb, with Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Fionn Whitehead deserving special mentions. Rylance is perfectly cast as Mr. Dawson, a British civilian who puts his life and that of his son on the line as he heads into harm’s way not because it’s his duty but because it’s the right thing to do. Branagh delivers one of his best performances as the Commander who realizes the severity of the situation and refuses to give up, committed to getting as many of his men off the beach and back home as possible. He subtly displays the concern, frustration, and hopelessness he and his men are facing while never faltering from his determination to succeed against all odds.
Newcomer Fionn Whitehead delivers a great performance as the young British soldier on the beaches of Dunkirk who’s terrified, desperate to survive, and willing to risk disciplinary action to secure a boat ride home. Tom Hardy delivers another solid performance as the RAF pilot who understands the odds and races against time, a lack of fuel, and a considerably larger enemy air force to get to the beaches and provide cover to the evacuating boats, all while engaging in aerial dog fights with the German planes targeting both the sea vessels and the troops.
Dunkirk is visually spectacular and the IMAX format is meant for a film of this caliber. The incredible sound effects make it seem as though the bullets and explosions are happening in the theater, upping the tension and transporting the audience into the film, onto the beaches and into the cockpits of the flying Spitfire planes. The score is ominous, compelling, and compliments the scenes brilliantly.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is an amazing film that tells an incredible true story through wonderful direction, dynamic performances, and stunning cinematography. Dunkirk‘s the best picture of the year and one of the best films in decades.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense war experience and some language
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: July 21, 2017