France, 1940. A British army of 300,000 men is stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. With the Luftwaffe bearing down on them and not enough naval forces to evacuate, England is desperate to bring just a tenth of them home to defend the homeland against the inevitable German invasion. The call goes out to send every civilian vessel that can cross the English Channel to bring the troops home, and many civilian sailors answer the call. The Royal Air Force sends what reinforcements they can, but they also have to maintain a reserve for when the Luftwaffe comes calling at the Battle of Britain.
Christopher Nolan’s newest film, Dunkirk, tells the harrowing tale of the evacuation of the British Army as only Christopher Nolan can. And I am happy to say that after the mess that was Interstellar, he is back in top form.
My rating 4.5 out of 5.
Dunkirk is a little tricky to follow, I admit, but it’s really masterfully done. It tells the story from three different perspectives over three different time periods in parallel: a week at the Mole (that is, the pier at the beach), where a trio of desperate soldiers are among the many trying to escape the Luftwaffe’s bombardment; a day on the sea, where an older Englishman and two boys take their private boat across the Channel to the beach; and an hour-long battle in the air between a pair of Spitfire pilots and a Luftwaffe bomber. As the movie progresses, all three stories converge in one dramatic moment.
I’m not usually a fan of war movies, but I really liked this film. Even though he’s hit-or-miss, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Christopher Nolan is one of the few true visionaries in this era of sequels and reboots. He manages to tell an engaging story while breaking all the usual rules. You don’t need linear time (this is one of the most non-linear movies I’ve ever seen). You hardly need any dialogue (there’s not much of it). And you don’t need to know the character’s names. (I honestly couldn’t tell you any of them with as little dialogue as there was, but unlike Rogue One, it didn’t detract from the story.) You can just experience the war as it happens, and it feels real enough.
And of course, I couldn’t talk about a Chris Nolan film without mentioning that he once again teamed up with Hans Zimmer for the music. Mr. Zimmer’s music is a constant presence, with almost every track, loud or soft, driven by the rhythm of the ticking clock, giving that much more of a sense of urgency to the story. It’s not as good as the Interstellar soundtrack, which I still consider possibly the best soundtrack of all time; and it’s perhaps not even as good as the Inception soundtrack, but it’s still some of his best work.
Dunkirk is an excellent film in terms of cinematography; it’s an important piece of history, and if you’re interested in either of those things, or you just like war movies, it’s well worth seeing.