In viewing Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk, (who wrote and directed the film) I am sort of reminded of past films such as Saving Private Ryan, or more recently Lone Survivor. They say war is hell. War can be ugly. War can be brutal no matter what time period. The action in the film is set in a time where there seems to be no hope and is shot in such a way where the audience is on the front lines the entire time because Nolan drops you there in the beginning and doesn’t let up.
A few days have passed since viewing the film and thinking about it over that period and even now as I am writing, the film has merit and it stands on its own as a cinematic achievement. I first, however, didn’t know what to think about the film. It actually caught me off guard because it time jumps, moves from one sequence to another and then back to a previous sequence and so on. It is non-linear and I just wasn’t expecting that.
The film brings emotion and true character to the story. Although somewhat slow moving in a few places in the second act, it stil stays true to the characters and brings their thoughts and emotions to the screen.
It displays the incredible events of the evacution of British and Allied soldiers, in late May and early June of 1940, who where entrapped in the harbor and beaches of Dunkirk, France by the Germans, who were making a final sweep of the Allied forces. Hoyte van Hoytema, director of cinematography, has made the backdrops of beaches, sea, air, and land central characters within the frame of the story to provide intriguing locations and interactions among the characters who pass through sequence to sequence. And Hans Zimmer’s score is nearly breathtaking. It adds so much to the characters and story, and it underscores the tension, mood, and action of every scene. I don’t believe there was a moment where there wasn’t musical underscoring. I think that brought me in the film and helped sustain my interest.
This film was an ensemble film with no one character taking the spotlight. Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, and Jack Lowden portrayed some of the more prominent characters but they were part of the large ensemble who interacted magnificently among the bits and scenes that made up the crafty sequences in the film. And of course, Kenneth Branagh portrayed Commander Bolton, who was leading the evacuation from the port at the beach. You saw the emotion in his eyes and actions as he gave the orders to load the injured on the ships, all the while taking special care to realize the brevity of the situation as enemy planes flew overhead dropping bombs.
It’s not an action packed, exciting adventure film, but it is another depiction of the brutality of war and a true test of the human spirit. It is amazing what humans can do in the eyes of tragedy and harrowing events. With the music and evolving character stories, the film held my attention and allowed me to be immersed in the story. Films that go on and on with a lot of expository information that never seems to really go anywhere, loses me. Dunkirk, despite its somewhat slow character moments at times, was not one of those films.