Ready for a laugh? This is the second film based on the Battle of Dunkirk this year. What were the odds? And seriously, this film has been on everyone’s radar for a long time. And then THEIR FINEST (2017) decided to throw people a curve ball. “Hey! We’re a Dunkirk movie too! Come see us too!” Well, to be fair, it was good and served to hype me up for this latest release even more.
Anywho, for once in my uncultured life, I can say that I am indeed familiar with the Battle of Dunkirk. My time in high school wasn’t completely for naught. Well… maybe I shouldn’t pat myself on the back just yet because the details were completely lost on me. Well, okay, I knew the general event. Britain got their asses handed to them in a battle and civilians took their personal boats, yachts, and whatever else they had to save their soldiers. I remember that being a pretty damn interesting story. Too bad I was an obnoxious history-hating teenager, right? Still, that story left an impact on me and I can’t say that I’m unhappy to see multiple movies shining light on this moment in World War II. It looks awesome, though… I do have a question. There’s a character that seems like he’s a civilian, but it getting ready to charge head first into the fighting with soldiers on board. Was… that a thing? Did the civilian “fleet” really do that? Ballsy if yes, what the hell, if no.
Alrighty, let’s take a gander at this much hyped ensemble cast. We have newcomer Fionn Whitehead, making his feature film debut. Congrats, sir. Alongside him, we also have Mark Rylance (THE BFG , BRIDGE OF SPIES , ANONYMOUS , and the upcoming READY PLAYER ONE ), Tom Hardy (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD , THE DARK KNIGHT RISES , INCEPTION , and upcoming Sony Spider-Man spin-off VENOM  and MAD MAX: THE WASTELAND, due out… who knows when), Kenneth Branagh (JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT , HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS , WILD WILD WEST , and the upcoming MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS ), and Cillian Murphy (FREE FIRE , ANTHROPOID , and RED EYE ).
Now for the talent behind the scenes. Writing and directing is one of my favorite directors of all time, Christopher Nolan. Permit me to go on a rare nerdgasm and talk about this man. I’ve been a huge fan of his since BATMAN BEGINS (2005). The man created my favorite film adaptations of my favorite superhero! How can he not be?! But never mind the nerd in me, the man has a serious penchant for dark and amazing movies, the genres never being consistent. Seriously, MEMENTO (2000) and INSOMNIA (2002) are crime thrillers, INCEPTION is a sci-fi that put THE MATRIX (1999) to shame, and INTERSTELLAR (2014), another sci-fi that was such a visual spectacle and put Jessica Chastain on the map for me. I love Nolan’s work, always will. If his name is stamped on it, I wanna see it. This film is no exception. Composing the score is the living legend, Hans Zimmer, known for THE BOSS BABY (2017), IT’S COMPLICATED (2009), and THE HOLIDAY (2006). Finally, the cinematographer is Hoyte Van Hoytema, known for 007 SPECTRE (2015), HER (2013), and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008).
Overall, SHUT UP AND LET’S GET TO REVIEWING!!!
This is my honest opinion of: DUNKIRK
Set on the beaches of Dunkirk, France circa 1940. The story is split into three narratives. One follows a young British private named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), who is the sole survivor of his squad and joins his brothers in arms desperately trying to flee Dunkirk, while constantly threatened by German dive-bombers. Another follows a civilian sailor, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and Peter’s friend George (Barry Keoghan), who take their boat out toward Dunkirk to lend a helping hand to the soldiers still stranded there. The final story follows British Air Force pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) who is trying to lend his support to the ravaged men on the beaches.
I’m calling it right here, right now. This movie is going to sweep the Oscars the next go around, and win Best Picture of the year. The film has a 92% on RottenTomatoes (as of 7/21/2017) and a more impressive 9.0/10 on IMDb (as of 7/21/2017), ranking it right up there with films like THE GODFATHER (1972), THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), and THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) in IMDb’s “Top 250 films”. This is for damn good reason. On a pure, film-making standpoint, this movie hands down, in my opinion, the best movie of the year. It won’t necessarily be my favorite movie of the year, but it’s bar none the best.
Shit, where do I even begin to talk about it? It’s possible I missed about the two to five minutes of the movie, so I should rectify that in a second viewing. Where I came in was when Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) was with his squad and then they start taking fire from unseen German forces. This scene with him sets up the tone for the entire film beautifully. These men on the ground, all they want to do is get the hell out of dodge. The tension is constantly gripping on this front and whenever you hear those dive-bombers coming in the distance, and those soldiers’ heads look up with that look of utter dread, you feel their fear and hopelessness. By the way, what is that sound called? Stuka? Or is that the actual aircraft? You know what I mean.
Speaking of sounds, I’m about to talk about something I never talk about in my reviews: the film’s sound design. Why do I never talk about this? Because I don’t typically have an ear for that sort of thing. I can’t tell the difference between good and bad sound design, so when I notice one or the other, you know it’s either that good, or that bad. So… time to geek out. When I mentioned the dive-bombers, their appearance is so subtle at first, but the moment you hear those propellers in the distance, your heart sinks with the rest of the soldiers. When you’re in the cockpit with Hardy, you really feel immersed in the action. The patience required to time your shots when engaging the enemy fighters, the skipping of your heart when the enemy fires back and the bullets are bouncing off the hull, the unique sound of the machinegun fire, it’s an incredibly visceral experience unlike any that I’ve experienced.
On the ground with Tommy, everything this young man faces is arguably the best part of the movie. His opening scene in the city as he’s trying to escape enemy gunfire and how his men are picked off one by one around him, you share in his stress. Even once he hops over a wooden gate, that door is peppered with gunfire that only narrowly misses him and he’s hopelessly firing back, even at one point losing his rifle adding to the tension that now he can’t even defend himself. Again, the sound design is incredible. When the enemy weapons go off, they’re loud. As in, the German soldiers might be really close, or not that far away, it’s impossible to tell. But when they go off, it’s impossible to determine just how close Tommy gets to being killed off himself. And once he reaches the Dunkirk beach, it’s gorgeous cinematography from this point on. It’s no secret that Nolan filmed on location- as in, this was literally filmed on the Dunkirk beach where the soldiers were evacuated- and he doesn’t waste it. He makes sure that Hoytema and the other cameramen gets the maximum use out of those IMAX cameras. Enormous wide shots of hundreds of extras… or… possibly cardboard cutouts. Apparently, Nolan did that for this movie. Whether or not they were extras or cutouts, it was damn convincing.
Also, there’s this insane appreciation that anyone has to have when it comes to his set designs. Specifically, they’re not really sets. As in, to my knowledge, there’s no sound stages. Nolan literally got real boats, real planes, and really blew them up, or crashed them. On the one hand, I’m sitting in my seat going, “Aww man! That was a functioning, seafaring vehicle. Don’t destroy it!” On the other hand, I’m also going, “Dude! That’s an actual ship he just destroyed!” How many film-makers go out of their way for that kind of authenticity?! This is what separates the Chris Nolans from the Michael Bays, whom you know would have made 3D CGI ships. Nolan’s got that superior vision that will always churn out a fantastically produced film and be reliably incredible to look at and make you feel a part of.
Another refreshing aspect in this film is a limited use of dialog and not a whole lot of character development. The true star of the film is, admirably, the evacuation of Dunkirk itself. But that’s not to say that the acting isn’t anything short of great. Despite relatively little dialog outside of combat jargon from Farrier, exposition from Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Colonel Winnant (James D’Arcy), as well as interactions with Mr. Dawson, the boys, and the soldiers they rescue, there isn’t a ton of character development. Again, it’s more about everyone’s reactions to their environment rather than talking about what’s waiting for them at home. There’s none of that. Everything we need to know about the characters is played out like: Tommy and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) will hide out in an abandoned boat with some comrades and get shot at, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to set sail with the weight they’re carrying. You immediately know the stakes, you feel the urgency in their predicament as they have to decide who to throw to the proverbial wolves. From Farrier in the cockpit, watching a German bomber about to attack a civilian boat, or Mr. Dawson’s unwavering loyalty to the soldiers who need help, it’s all acted out perfectly without needing details.
Guys, this movie is fantastic. I don’t know how many different ways I can say this, but if you appreciate this style of film-making, then you’re doing yourself a disservice by not seeing this film. From the subtle acting, to the gorgeous cinematography, the amazing sound design, jaw-dropping practical effects, it all culminates into, without a doubt, one of the best war films ever made. If you love Nolan’s work, go see it. It truly is his best film to date.
My honest opinion of DUNKIRK: 5/5