“Dunkirk” is a bit of a detour from the usual summer fare, in the best way possible. It’s not in 3D. It’s not a sequel. It’s not meant to launch a franchise. The setting is a real place, and the story is real.
Told with an ensemble cast on a large-scale that harkens back to classic Hollywood, director Christopher Nolan’s, “Dunkirk,” puts you in the heart of a critical tipping point of WWII.
For those not familiar with this strategic evacuation, you may know it better by the speech Winston Churchill delivered shortly after:
We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…
The film draws inspiration from this speech, and the event itself, in the structure of its telling. Broken into three parts — by land, by sea, and by air — it follows these three stories over one week, one day, and one hour.
Relying more on the sights and sounds of war, the film has very little dialogue. Words are rationed, spoken for necessity only. Moments of unnerving quiet are filled with an uneasiness that has the characters and the audience bracing for the next attack from an unseen enemy. It’s a contrast that keeps you on the edge of your seat for most of the film.
The film is simultaneously told on an epic and micro scale. Sweeping shots of the beach covered with hundreds of thousands of men are paired with close-ups where you can see the fear in each soldier’s eyes. The film’s penultimate moment pulls back from one man’s voyage from Dorset to Dunkirk to reveal the bigger picture, and a reminder of what the men on the beach, on the sea, and in the air are fighting for.
It’s a powerful, beautiful film, and a masterclass in ensemble acting. Featuring a range of experience from veterans of the stage and screen, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance, to relatively new newcomers Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles (yes, that Harry Styles), no single performance overpowers the group effort. Although, I do have to call out Tom Hardy’s performance as wingman, Farrier. Hardy proves once again, that even with most of his face obstructed he can deliver a commanding performance.
If you’re not one for big-budget summer blockbusters, this film offers a welcome reprieve. If you live for the summer blockbuster season, “Dunkirk,” has plenty of what you love, but with heart and purpose. It’s a nice reminder of the artistry and power of cinema, and the ability of real life heroes and stories to inspire.
…just for fun: