Synopsis: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.
Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Director: Christopher Nolan
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: Coming off of the enormous success of The Dark Knight trilogy, director Christopher Nolan stumbled a bit with his next film, Interstellar. Though far from a complete miss, the movie was a little too smart for its own good and is one of the rare Nolan films to get less interesting with subsequent viewings. Three years later, Nolan is back in a big way with the release of Dunkirk, a superbly structured World War II adventure that almost assures a long overdue Best Director nomination is headed his way.
Instead of giving you the same old review, I’ve compiled a list of Dunkirk Do’s and Don’ts.
Do bring earplugs. Nolan has continued his use of IMAX technology to film select scenes and with that comes a sound design that’s positively ear splitting. Looking around the audience in several key moments I saw numerous movie-goers with their fingers in their ears yet still enraptured with the film. Bullets whiz by with sharp zings and fighter planes streak across the sky with a sonic boom. Your teeth will be rattling by the time the credits roll.
Don’t be late. I’ve had some bad luck with technical problems plaguing screenings lately and the showing of Dunkirk I attended was delayed by almost a half hour due to sound issues. When we were told that it would be another five or ten minutes before the screening would resume, many audience members (including my guests) headed for the bathroom only to have the movie start up the moment they were out the door. That left their movie mates to quickly explain to them in loud whispers what was happening when they returned because Nolan’s script doesn’t repeat itself or explain the setting other than short title cards as the movie opens.
Do pay attention. Dunkirk is typically Nolan-esque with multiple overlapping storylines that take place at different times. There’s three ‘pieces’ to Nolan’s puzzle, each capturing a specific stretch of time during the evacuation of British and French soldiers from a beach in Northern France. The Mole covers a week stretch, following several young soldiers as they desperately try to escape the sand in any way possible. The action in The Sea unspools over a day while merely an hour is the length of time The Air covers. All three start and end at different places/times and if you aren’t fully paying attention you’ll miss the point at which they all convene.
Don’t look for star turns. While Nolan has cast dependable actors like Kenneth Branagh (Murder on the Orient Express), Mark Rylance (The BFG), Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins), and Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road), the real stars are the young unknowns that make up the soldiers and civilians that played a part in the withdrawal of the armies from Dunkirk. Even singer Harry Styles turns up as a tightly wound army man and acquits himself nicely as no mere bit of stunt casting. Only Hardy could be considered a leading player as his ace airman eventually takes center stage in his storyline. It’s unfortunate that Nolan didn’t learn from his critics in The Dark Knight Rises that bemoaned not being able to understand Hardy behind Bane’s mask. Once again, much of Hardy’s performance in covered by an air mask, obstructing his words from coming through clearly. The good news is that Nolan’s script is fat-free, never too speechy or preachy. So even though you can’t always understand Hardy, you aren’t missing ton of exposition.
Do bring some kind of stress ball and clip your nails judiciously before the movie starts. This was one of the tensest movies I’ve seen in some time…and it begins almost as soon as the first images appear onscreen. With Hans Zimmer’s score switching back and forth between graceful and pulse-racing, the music is almost another character. Even when nothing of note is happening, the score is always present to remind you that no one is truly safe.
Don’t miss this one on the biggest screen possible. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her) has lensed a staggeringly beautiful film with its overwhelming wide aerial shots of fighter pilots in action and smaller moments between soldiers hoping for a miracle trapped in the hull of a grounded boat. Another name to mention is editor Lee Smith (The Dark Knight) who has cut Nolan’s film into a lean example of cinematic efficiency. At 106 minutes, it’s Nolan’s shortest film to date and were it any longer it would lose valuable steam.
Do read up on the real-life story that inspired Nolan’s fictionalized screenplay. While not a huge WWII buff, even I know that the events that happened on Dunkirk aren’t always mentioned in the same breath as other acts of heroism. Nolan affords time to take on the perils of war but tops it all off with a message of sincerity and hope that feels justly earned by the characters and audience, considering all we’ve been through together.
In summary…Do go, Don’t delay.