You can practically see it from here. Home.
Dunkirk is the tale of one of the most extraordinary events in World War II. The Allied forces had been cornered and trapped into the little coastal area of Dunkirk, France. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers queued up on the open beaches for German planes to pick them off like fish in a barrel. Home and safety were just on the other side of the English Channel but how to get there? In one of history’s greatest examples of patriotism and civic engagement, over 700 smaller civilian manned boats from Great Britain sailed off to Dunkirk to bring the soldiers home. It’s an extraordinary tale and it’s finally gotten the cinematic treatment it deserves in glorious 70 mm film of truly gorgeous cinematography.
This is writer and director Chris Nolan’s (The Dark Knight, Inception) first dip into a movie based on actual historic events. He rises to the challenge brilliantly. Instead of the current trend for CGI, Nolan used actual destroyers for scenes of sea battle and real boats for the civilian vessels. In fact at one point he used over 60 boats for filming, the largest number ever used in filming, but the effect is well worth it. He also splits the film’s narrative into three viewpoints, told over different time periods.
One week for members of the British infantry, (welcome newcomers Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles) under Commander Bolton (the legendary Kenneth Branagh) on The Beach. One day for civilian, weekend sailors, Mr. Dawson (the always brilliant Mark Rylance of Wolf Hall and Bridge of Spies) his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and his friend George, and the downed shell shocked pilot they rescue (Cillian Murphy a long Nolan veteran from Inception and the Batman trilogy) who sail The Sea.
One hour for pilots Collins (Jack Lowdon of Denial) and Farrier (the only and only Tom Hardy of Mad Max – Fury Road) in The Sky. Each is part of a kaleidoscope of oncoming events, each has a part to play, each of their stories will collide. None of them will get much in the way of backstory or even dialogue, but then again, it’s not really necessary.
The emphasis here is not on where these people came from, but on experiencing these events along with them. We’re in the cockpit, we’re behind the ships, wheel, we’re on that beach and can practically taste the seafoam and feel the cold of the water. We share their sense of desperation and despair. Yes, there was exceptional heroism at Dunkirk, but there was also fear and a selfish belief in personal self-preservation above all else as well, and Nolan is brave enough to depict this without judgement. This is a film where history truly comes alive.
Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon courtesy of Warner Brothers