Dunkirk (2017)

  • Time: 107 min
  • Genre: Action | Drama | History
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Cast: Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, Kenneth Branagh

Storyline:

Evacuation of Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, Canada, and France, who were cut off and surrounded by the German army from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, France, between May 26- June 04, 1940, during Battle of France in World War II.

5 reviews

  • Simplicity is often the most difficult achievement. There’s nowhere to hide – every element must be unimpeachable. Christopher Nolan achieves a stunning simplicity with Dunkirk, which will surely rank as one of the greatest war films ever made.

    A war film in which the enemy is never seen and where barely a drop of blood is shed, Dunkirk focuses on the large-scale evacuations of 400,000 Allied troops stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk during the second World War. “Survival is victory” goes the film’s tagline and, indeed, surviving the circumstances in which safety is never guaranteed is achieving a mission impossible. Twenty-six miles away from home – so close they can practically see England and yet so far as they are under constant attack by German dive bombers – the soldiers’ rescue is a seemingly hopeless situation in which Nolan finds his focal point, trifurcating his non-linear narrative between air, land and sea.

    In the air are Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), Spitfire pilots determined to protect the rescue vessels from enemy attack. Land is the small town in which young British private Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is seen surviving enemy gunfire before running out on the beach where thousands of soldiers are painfully and nakedly exposed as they queue to board one of the rescue ships. Much of the ensuing action is positively Sisyphean – soldiers get on one ship only for it to be bombed, they get on another only for it to bring them back to the beach, they find another only to find it being used as target practice by the enemy, and so on and so on. It’s both gut-wrenching and heartbreaking to watch scenes such as a rescue ship filled to the brim with the wounded slowly sinking into the water, or soldiers burning in the water as the spilled oil from the ships are set on fire, or Collins trapped in his plane as water slowly seeps in.

    Nolan weaves the separate narratives – Mark Rylance’s calm determination anchors the third as one of the many civilian sailors who sailed across the Channel to help with the rescue effort – in such a way that all seem to be happening at the same time when, in fact, they are occurring separately. The gambit equalises the experiences of the different figures involved – whether pilot or soldier or civilian, every single person fought the fight in their own way and suffered their own share of horrors. Nolan passes little judgment on his characters – he understands that the boys’ desperation even when that desperation means taking on a British soldier’s identity or pulling rank when it increases their chance for survival. Indeed, that empathy and the exclusive focus on the British perspective, specifically those who underwent the circumstances firsthand rather than Churchill (whose words are heard via an ordinary soldier), for example, that distinguishes Dunkirk from most war films.

    Nolan distills the tale into one of the purest cinematic experiences in recent memory, stripping his narrative of as much context, back story, and dialogue as possible. Intensely visual, precisely executed, incredibly immersive, the film is arguably Nolan’s masterwork, one that perfectly marries his often dueling emotional and intellectual halves into a magnificent and deeply moving work.

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  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆½ out of 5 )

    GRADE: A-

    THIS FILM IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: A visually accomplished film that focuses on its “war is hell” theme with memorable details.

    SYNOPSIS: The Battle of Dunkirk, as seen by its fighting soldiers on land, on sea, and in the air.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 47 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: Dunkirk shows the horrors of war as soldiers are stranded on the beaches of a French coastal town and waiting for the smallest sign of rescue. Yes, it will come, but slowly, as lives are lost and saved. The Germans are in control here, having the advantage to easily aim and fire at the helpless British troops (along with their French, Belgian and Canadian allies). Courage is in abundance as both civilian and military forces come to their aid. Such is war. Such is Christopher Nolan’s exceptional film.

    Mr. Nolan’s vision interweaves three distinct viewpoints of the Allied evacuation, from land, sea, and air, all occurring in diverging time frames. His skill as a director establishes this battlefront in three chapters and he masterfully juggles his action scenes with his mini-cast of characters in each segment, all of which leads to a stirring denouncement.

    The film is divided into three chapters. “The Mole; One week” focuses on one young recruit, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and his band of brothers, including One Direction’s former member, Harry Styles), as they scurry to avoid bullets and falling explosives. The second part, “The Sea: One Day”, tells its story of a brave captain (Mark Rylance) and his crew (Tom Glynn-Carrey, Barry Keoghan) who are in rescue mode to save the soldiers, although a recent survivor (Cillian Murphy) of this slaughter protests their mission. Two pilots (Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden) lead a dogfight against the German planes from above in the third portion, “The Air: One Hour”. The structure of Dunkirk takes these three individual story lines and meshes them together so seamlessly that the moviegoer follows these one-act dramas with full attention as they converge into a satisfying whole.

    Mr. Nolan’s skills as a director are impressive as he captures this historic piece of World War II lore. For me, the film was very reminiscent of the fine 1962 war saga, The Longest Day, which showed World War II in a fragmented style of battle scenes from various points of view with a matter-of-fact authenticity. (That classic film, helmed by three different directors, dealt with the D-Day landings in Normandy.) Dunkirk’s powerful visual swept is also comparable to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, one of the greatest war films ever made. This film is superior filmmaking in every sense of the word. (Be forewarned; there is violence due to its subject matter, but it’s not as graphic as most war films in recent memory.)

    Technically, Dunkirk is a remarkable achievement. The images are photographed with stunning details by Hoyte van Hoytema and the taut editing by Lee Smith ratchets up the suspense. Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score and the astonishing sound design complement each other to heighten the tension as well. Mr. Nolan’s screenplay is more action than words, but he is one of the foremost visual storyteller in today’s cinema. His images are memorable (a horrifying crash landing on water, a sandy beach littered with discarded helmets, war leaflets showering down on some infantrymen walking nonchalantly down a strangely quiet street, the hand of a drowning soldier suddenly becoming motionless in the dark murky waters). Come award season, this film will garner many accolades.

    One minor flaw: Due to Mr. Nolan’s clinical approach on his subject, the personal human drama is missing from his screenplay. He is more intent of showing the casualties of war. One wishes more screen time was spent on fleshing out the characters and adding some back stories to the major roles. As it is now, they all become stock characters representative of the bigger picture whose sole purpose is to deliver the film’s main theme: war is hell but the human spirit will triumphantly survive. The acting, including Kenneth Branagh, Mr. Lowden, and Mr. Rylance, is fine but it never rises to an emotional level due to the narrative structure of the film. The actors are continually upstaged by the physical sweep of the event.

    Dunkirk recreates one epic battle in the hands of one epic director at the top of his game. It is one of the year’s best films and will deservedly become a film classic for many generations to come.

    NOTE: See this film in IMAX format. The visuals and sound effects make foran incredible moviegoing experience.

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  • Christopher Nolan, a period piece, and a warfare movie. It’s an interesting amalgamation. What did I think? Eh, meager disappointment at best. My latest review is Nolan’s 2017 release, Dunkirk.

    The story of Dunkirk is a true one. It’s not handled faithfully and it has Nolan achingly trying to reinvent the combat wheel. It’s about a rather large evacuation in World War II. Allied soldiers were taken from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk via the summer of 1940. And in case you are wondering, Dunkirk is a medium-sized commune in northern France.

    Frustrating, overly thought-provoking, icy and at times clunky, Nolan’s film is told through the eyes of three different groups of WWII servicemen. Yeah its running time is 106 minutes but Dunkirk feels like it’s two and a half hours long. Heck, about an hour in, I was almost “done” with Dunkirk. Natch.

    Anyway, Christopher Nolan as a director, gives Dunkirk a sterile look, a large canvas, a few nimble wide shots, and a numbing sense of being. Those are the traits I like about him. However, Christopher has never been a supreme storyteller, a user-friendly filmmaker, or an expert at staging action. This is where his Dunkirk ultimately fails.

    For a movie under two hours, Dunkirk feels slight of hand at being a silent film. It still has a ton of scenes that don’t find a rhythm and can’t sustain any kind of payoff. Battle sequences involving planes, boats, and land infantry are quick, lack minimal gore (that explains the PG-13), and are virtually non-coherent. Also, the actors mumble their lines and Nolan’s favorite troupers from his other flicks (Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy), feel underused while not having a lot of script material to bounce off of.

    All in all, my biggest fault with Dunkirk has to be the editing by Australian Lee Smith. He shapes a vehicle that substitutes wartime (ADHD) for tone and entertainment value. Nothing in frame is truly held long enough for the viewer to process. Basically it’s like the movie equivalent of someone constantly changing channels with their state-of-the-art remote. So yeah, Dunkirk has a couple of meaningful moments with a provided musical score that feels equal parts stirring, absorbingly loud, and annoying. Still, Smith’s edits are very choppy and very fleet. They zap Dunkirk of having any lengthy intrigue or sense of epic tranquility. Bottom line: War pics shouldn’t make you miffed at trying to fit all the events together as the closing credits come up. That only works with stuff like The Thin Red Line. My rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

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  • “Wars are not won by evacuation.”

    I’m sure there are already as many reviews about Christopher Nolan’s last movie about the battle of Dunkirk, as there were British soldiers on the beach of Dunkirk waiting for their evacuation. An awful lot. Although it wasn’t a battle in the strict sense of the word, but rather a massive logistical operation to get the English army back on British soil. Whether this operation had any influence on the course of the 2nd WO, is something for military strategists and analysts to determine.

    In my opinion, there was an incomprehensible blunder made by the German commanders. Fortunately, because sauerkraut isn’t really my favorite dish. It’s not a chapter in this terrible world war, with heroic battles taking place. A bold choice, but nevertheless, it was a breathtaking spectacle.

    To call it “Film of the Year” is a bridge too far (you can call that flick a masterpiece). But Nolan succeeded in creating an energetic and exciting film that intertwines three different story lines in a non-chronological way. Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is the key figure who must save his own skin from the beginning on, so he won’t be mowed down by German bullets. It seemed like the only thing he did the whole movie was surviving one life-threatening situation after the other.

    Then there’s Farrier (Tom Hardy), one of three Spitfire pilots who try to safeguard the crossing of their troops and hunt down fierce German fighter planes and bombers which are trying to sink as many ships as possible. And finally there’s Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) who’s crossing the canal in a simple yacht together with his sons Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and George (Barry Keoghan) to help with the rescue of soldiers. In this way Nolan incorporates three different chapters, each taking place in another territory. By land, at sea and in the air.

    The very first thing you’ll notice is the largely wordless acting. Particularly Tommy whose lips seem to be sealed almost throughout the complete movie. It is as if in this war every conversation seems useless and body language speaks volumes. The majority of dialogues are at the expense of pilots and commanders. Unfortunately, the conversation between Spitfire pilots is sometimes unclear and restricted to indistinct mumbling. Partly due to deafening noise effects (and when you are watching this movie in a Slovenian cinema where it’s hard to read the subtitles as well, this is a slight disadvantage).

    And that brings us to the soundtrack. It’s omnipresent and, in my opinion, of decisive importance. Hans Zimmer’s music seems to be constantly present and bolsters the entire film. At moments unobtrusive in the background after which it swells out into a climax. Let’s say that this is the very first time the musical setting demands my attention and impresses me. The same goes for the deafening noise effects, which sometimes make it seem like you’re in the midst of the war. The down diving Stuka’s and the deadly cargo they drop on the beach with that terrifying, screaming noise. Sometimes I had the urge to crawl deeper into my chair.

    The way everything is portrayed is also phenomenal. The dogfights are in my eyes the highlights in this impressive film. The vast shots of the beach where thousands of Allies are crammed as sardines in a barrel. You can feel the threat of dead. The claustrophobic and precarious situations that’ll make you feel as if you’re trapped yourself. The despair flows off the screen. Thousands of Allies can, as it were, practically see their safe home but they realize that getting there is an impossible matter.

    This is, just like “Saving Private Ryan”, an epic war story. Only the first one was more brutal and showed the horror of WWII in a terrible way. That’s why I still can picture some scenes from this Spielberg spectacle. I’m afraid that won’t be the case when it comes to “Dunkirk”. The fact that it was a defeat that led to a victory afterwards is an indisputably fact. And yet, I had this “that’s-it?” feeling afterwards. Without a doubt, it was a traumatic experience for the thousands of Allies, but the compulsory cheering moment as apotheosis was a bit too predictable. And I’m still wondering why Farrier made that decision in the end. As reasoned as his previous actions were, so stupid I found this final decision.

    Obviously, “Dunkirk” will win prizes at the major film festivals, but I’m afraid the main prizes will be awarded to others. I hope they’ll release films the next six months that deserve the title “Film of the Year”.

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  • “Hope is a weapon. Survival is victory.”

    White knuckled, heart racing and teeth clenched, this movie engulfed me entirely, and I was only ten minutes into it.

    For those who need to brush up on their history, the miracle at Dunkirk is simple: When 400,000 men couldn’t get home, home came for them.

    The evacuation occured during the Battle of France in WWII when Germany cut off and surrounded a vast number of British, French, Belgian and Canadian soldiers. The evacuation took eight days, with a total of 338,226 soldiers being rescued by a fleet of 800 boats, including 39 British destroyers.

    But, before you go into this movie with preconceived notions, I’ve laid out some points to consider that are worth knowing pre-viewing.

    Despite my reservations upon watching the initial trailer for Dunkirk (I didn’t think the trailers looked very good at all), I realized this movie would be in good hands with visionary director Christopher Nolan. As his 10th film to date, Dunkirk proved to be his most personal piece to tackle on screen.

    Nolan brought back the best of the best to work on this film with him including composer Hans Zimmer who composed the original score (he also worked with Nolan on Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy). The score and sound mixing are the most harrowing aspects of the film; you’ll feel transported into the battle.

    Cinematographer Hoyte von Hoytema also returns previously working with Nolan on the beautifully brilliant Interstaller, and editor Lee Smith, who has cut together every Nolan film since Batman Begins in 2005 also returned.

    Nolan + his all-star behind-the-scenes team is beyond proof to trust in this movie.

    After I saw Dunkirk opening night, I received typical war-related questions about the film: Is it completely bloody and gorey, is it another masterpiece like Saving Private Ryan? While I completely applaud the film, it’s not what you’d expect. And that’s a good thing. It’s not entirely a war movie, but moreso a story about survival. Imagine Saving Private Ryan without the personal subplots and meaty dialogue, and you’ll be a little more on track with Dunkirk. The film even has a shocking PG-13 rating for “some language” and “intense war experience.” When I realized the movie’s rating wasn’t R, I had immediate reservations.

    “All of my big blockbuster films have been PG-13. It’s a rating I feel comfortable working with totally. ‘Dunkirk’ is not a war film. It’s a survival story and first and foremost a suspense film. So while there is a high level of intensity to it, it does not necessarily concern itself with the bloody aspects of combat, which have been so well done in so many films. We were really trying to take a different approach and achieve intensity in a different way. I would really like lots of different types of people to get something out of the experience.” Christopher Nolan via IndieWire

    The film is told from three points of view: The air (planes), the land (on the beach) and the sea (the evacuation by the navy). Nolan opted for a non-linear form of storytelling, which sat well with me, but not all viewers.

    “Do not repeat to the studio, but this will be my most experimental film. For the soldiers who embarked in the conflict, the events took place on different temporalities. On land, some stayed one week stuck on the beach. On the water, the events lasted a maximum day; and if you were flying to Dunkirk, the British spitfires would carry an hour of fuel. To mingle these different versions of history, one had to mix the temporal strata. Hence the complicated structure; even if the story is very simple.” Christopher Nolan via IMDB

    Another aspect of the movie that I warned people about was the severe lack of dialogue. The story is meant to be a visual experience of war, an action and suspense point of view without the baggage of dialogue. I thought this worked well for the film, because it was an approach I’d never fully experienced in a war movie before. War is brutal and impersonal, and giving slim room for character development in this respect worked in favor for the film.

    Take it from someone who was actually there to praise the film’s authenticity:

    “I never thought I would see that again. It was just like I was there again. It didn’t have a lot of dialogue. It didn’t need any of the dialogue because it told the story visually and it was so real.” 97-year-old Ken Sturdy via IndieWire

    “I don’t use the word lightly, but “Dunkirk” is a modern masterpiece that evokes a range of feelings that personify why going to the movies is so special. Simply put, don’t miss your chance.” Keith & The Movies

    “Probably Christopher Nolan’s best work to date. The level of stress and anxiety I had, caused by the mountainous tension and dangerous predicaments, took my breath away.” Bill Arceneaux

    “Dunkirk is a nerve-pulling thriller more than an action picture, crammed with human drama, continuous suspense, and some expertly edited time flips and choreography from start to finish. A symphony of a motion picture experience that we should all live through and survive to tell the tale.” Write Out of L.A.

    “Nolan continues his cinematic journey exploring the challenging themes and traits of personal struggle, sacrifice and hope whilst simultaneously pushing the limits of film presentation, particularly the IMAX format. Dunkirk in the 15/70mm IMAX print with the incredible cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is a true thing of beauty, ranking highly as the best and immersive IMAX experience I’ve seen.” Confessions From a Geek Mind

    “Many films achieve greatness by giving a fresh spin to familiar themes and concepts. Dunkirk, instead, presents something wholly unique. And even after its hype wears off, Dunkirk will be studied and admired for decades, enjoying its adulation as a film that introduced something new.” And So It Begins

    “On a movie meant to be so big, meant to be seen on such a gigantic screen, I found that its smallest moments, the little unexpected moments of heroism, are the best it has to offer.” Speaks in Movie Lines

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