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Dunkirk – Movie Review

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Dunkirk – Movie Review

Rating: A (Fantastic)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures

Christopher Nolan is a director with an incredible attention to detail in his work, although his scripts can sometimes be bogged down by excessive exposition. Dunkirk reverses that by keeping dialogue to a minimum and turning the entire film into a ticking clock. Time is important to this film as Nolan jumps between the multiple points of view during Operation Dynamo, but still keeps the story clear and simple to follow. Dunkirk is an impressively mounted production with clear respect for everyone who fought and feared for their lives during this evacuation. Nolan puts the audience in the thick of the action and never lets go.

While Christopher Nolan is the mastermind behind Dunkirk, equal credit should also be given to editor Lee Smith, director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema and the sound team led by Gregg Landaker and Gary Rizzo. They combine their talents to make the film immersive. Smith cuts between the multiple characters in a seamless manner and keeps the various plot strands moving. There’s never a point when one wishes to abandon any of the arcs out of boredom. Van Hoytema especially excels in filming the dog fights. Taking cues from the likes of Wings and Hell’s Angels, we are in the pilot’s seat as the airplanes fly and swerve. It all adds to the uncertainty of when the enemy will make their attack. Through it all, the sound constantly keeps the viewer on their toes as bullets and bombs shoot towards the soldiers from every conceivable angle.

There is no central main character in Dunkirk as Nolan decides to focus on a series of individuals in the middle of this situation. Yet nobody feels short changed and each character is developed properly and with the necessary time to make one care about them. Nolan uses them to explore the different mindsets that would have been going through a solider or civilian’s head during this ordeal. The common thread is all of them are frightened. World War II films commonly show the bravery of soldiers during the conflict and they absolutely were courageous. However, they were also scared of whether or not they would see the next day. That terror is on all of their faces.

Another smart device Nolan employs is never showing the face of the enemy. There are shots fired by Nazi soldiers and Nazi pilots take to the skies in Dunkirk, but they are otherwise kept hidden. They are an unseen and unpredictable force, further elevating the tension of the scenes. Nolan also shows the fighting going on between the British men at Dunkirk. The desperation and paranoia ran high as morale continued taking a beating. This is best shown with Cillian Murphy’s “Shivering Soldier” as he deals with being shell shocked and stuck on a small boat with a family heading to rescue soldiers at Dunkirk. One understands his fear and how that affects his decision making.

Dunkirk is a much leaner film than Christopher Nolan’s more recent work and that works to the film’s advantage. The shortness of the scenes end up allowing him to strengthen the characters and keep the tension running high. Most importantly is how Nolan takes the subject matter seriously. There was little time for relaxation during this war and he keeps the uncertainty frequent in every sequence. Dunkirk is a worthy tribute to those who found themselves at Dunkirk in 1940 and tried desperately to survive and escape. However, it also shows those who sadly lost their lives in the conflict. This is a brilliant piece of filmmaking that does those men and women proud.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison