‘Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, Canada, and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.’ (IMDb) (106 min., by Christopher Nolan)
I got the opportunity to see this movie before it came out thanks to my work and Canvas Selects and I wanted to share my feelings of this movie right here as soon as possible. Needless to say I loved it. It was simply a masterpiece of cinema.
The entire movie you’re enthralled by the images and the sounds that surround you and takes you to this particular moment in history. It was filmed in Imax and Nolan also wanted it to be seen like this and I do believe it gave an extra dimension to the movie. As with his other movies, this one is filled with little details that may be a bit overlooked if you see the movie at home. In Imax you can see the movie in its entire glory.
Nolan takes us to one of the most well-known part of the second World War, where more than 400.000 men were trapped between the ocean and the incoming German forces. Basically, waiting like sitting ducks for transportation back home. For more than a week the soldiers were waiting, finding a way home and trying not to be killed by German airplanes in the meanwhile. With the forces at home not willing to put in a lot of effort, preferring to keep their boats and planes for the oncoming battles, the generals and soldiers were always looking for a way to get home, to get away from the planes. In the end, it came onto a few planes and a lot of fisher- and pleasure boats to get their soldiers back to Great-Britain. It was a massive undertaking, and the soldiers were helped by a lot of civilians.
The story is told from three perspectives with three different duration times. The Air on the one hand, where we follow a few planes during 1 hour. One of the fisher boats that we follow for 1 day. And off course we follow 3 soldiers finding themselves together on the beach. We follow them for 1 week. These stories are not told chronologically, but rather are mashed together, building up the tension and giving us a sense of urgency that the soldiers must have felt at the time.
The way the story is told is not really standard, but it doesn’t take you away from the story at all. Rather it takes you and pulls you even more into the story, as you meet characters in one storyline further in time and then see them come back in another storyline but earlier in time. (Are you still following?) Knowing how he turns out and what this specific character goes through and then seeing him still hopeful at the beginning of the week in another storyline, shows us how impactful this specific event was to the mindset of a lot of soldiers and how gruesome this was.
But the movie isn’t all about the story. There isn’t really one main character that you follow the entire movie. But rather a few characters we follow in each story line. You could argue that Tommy (played marvelously by Fionn Whitehead) is the main character because we follow him the most, but the story is carried by all the characters, giving us all different glimpses into this event. We have several characters all going through something different and all trying to survive. Because this is a story about survival, about getting away. There isn’t a lot of fighting. The entire movie is based upon these soldiers being stranded and finding a way of the beach, being bombarded, never knowing when the next boat will come and if they will be able to get on it. It’s a study of how far a person will go to survive and what it’ll take to get out there. It’s more of an emotional and movie piece, than an action or war movie.
What is most remarkable about this movie is that there isn’t that much dialogue at all. This being a war movie with a lot, and I repeat a lot of explosions, the emotions here are all in the little details on the faces of the actors, on their actions. Here we have to applaud everybody, all the actors because they are all so strong in their own way. They toned down their acting and it felt so much more real for it. Fionn Whitehead (Tommy) acts so subtly as one of the soldiers we follow on the ground. Trying to survive, but never forgetting who is and always trying to help others. Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles (yes, the one and only) are remarkable as his companions. These three stick together to survive even though they are all from different battalions.
Mark Rylance plays Mr. Dawson who takes matters and his boat in own hands, not wanting the Navy to take it away. He sets off with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and George (Barry Keoghan), a boy from their village, to go to Dunkirk to pick up soldiers. This trio of men have such a good chemistry, never faltering even when they see the carnage ahead. But they keep it real. They are afraid and it is life changing, but they show it in such a way that is just remarkable and show the strength of the characters and the actors themselves.
In the air we have Tom Hardy, one of Nolan’s favourite actors, putting up a great piece of acting. Here he plays Farrier, one of the pilots charged with going to Dunkirk to protect the soldiers from German planes coming to bombard them. We mostly only see his eyes, but they give so much of his emotions that you only need one flicker of his eyelashes to know how he feels. As he was restricted to his plane and could only act in a closed-of space, it’s just remarkable how much emotion he can bring over. The same thing can be said of Jack Lowden, playing Collins, his colleague in the air.
Needless to say that Christopher Nolan is a crack in picking the right actors for the right part and giving them enough direction, yet freedom as well, to give their best performance. By choosing to work with a lot of young (inexperienced) actors and more seasoned actors in the ‘supporting’ roles, Christopher Nolan is at his best.
Reuniting with his favourite DOP, Hoyte Van Hoytema, he brings us a beautiful movie. Filmed in Imax, for the first time also in handheld, the movie is a pearl to be seen. Never have I seen so much detail, so much colour. Never have I had the feeling of really being in the action. It took my breath away. The story, the characters were supported by the images and here you see why Christopher Nolan and Hoyte always work together. Because they click. Because it works. The action scenes, at sea or in the air, are so craftily filmed that you feel like you’re right there with them. The way the use colour to give an aura of doom or relief is just so well done. I could go on and on about this and about the beauty of this film.
And the music. Hans Zimmer is also at his best here. With a ticking clock every time something bad is going to happen. With the music drowning out, the sounds drowning out, you feel that something is coming up. This paired with a little flicker of emotion on the faces of one of the actor, and your stomach will be turning because you know it’s bad. Whatever is coming, it’s bad. The music, the images and the story are so well incorporated, so well tuned in on one another. It’s just an entire sensation from begin to end.
This movie is a true spectacle and one you must watch in Imax if you can, just to be able to see all the details, all the little emotions, to truly feel the movie. Because it’s a sensation. From beginning to end, you sit on the front edge of your seat and Christopher Nolan takes you by the hand and leads you towards 1h40 min. of pure suspense, action and despair, 1h40 of pure emotion. While you might feel a bit lost in the story at the beginning, it soon all clicks in place and you will see a movie like none you ever saw before. If one can call a movie someone’s masterpiece, then this is definitely the case right here. Christopher Nolan has outdone himself.
9.5/10 stars. Definitely go see it, you will be blown away!