By Bradley Griffith
Christopher Nolan is known in Hollywood and beyond for movies with intricate, stunning, and ambitious plots. He was the driving force behind “The Dark Knight,” “Memento,” and “Inception,” just to name a few. His new film “Dunkirk” is Nolan’s first film based on historical events and is ambitious in its scope.
In 1940 World War II is raging in Europe. British forces had joined the French in an unsuccessful attempt to drive the German troops out of France. Instead, the opposite occurred. The Germans forced the British and French troops to retreat to the seaside town of Dunkirk. Almost 400,000 British troops were gathered in the city and on the beach awaiting a rescue that may never come.
The movie tells the story from three points of view: from the land, the air, and the sea. The story from the land is told through the perspective of Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a British soldier. Tommy tries every way possible to escape Dunkirk. He carries a wounded man to a medical ship before they force him off the boat, just before it is destroyed. But this doesn’t dissuade Tommy from his task. He is willing to do whatever it takes to make it home.
From the air, British pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) flies his Spitfire fighter plane across the English Channel to support the British troops at Dunkirk. Along the way Farrier encounters a number of difficulties, including German fighter planes, German bombers, his fellow fighter pilots being shot down, and his fuel gauge being damaged in combat.
The perspective from the sea is through that of a civilian. The British Navy is commandeering private boats to help with the evacuation at Dunkirk. Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) is happy to offer his small boat, but rather than allow the Royal Navy to take control of his boat, Dawson, his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and young shipmate George (Barry Keoghan) pilot the craft to help rescue the soldiers.
Nolan normally produces films with intricate plots that range from entering another person’s dreams (“Inception”) to a murder investigation by a man who can make no new memories (“Memento”) to the mad ravings and schemes of the Joker (“The Dark Knight”). The plot of “Dunkirk” is not intricate, but it is very detailed. The soldiers want to be rescued. But how will that occur, and how many people and operations need to work together to make that happen?
The real genius of the movie is how the details from each of the three perspectives in the movie weave together to tell the entire story of the evacuation of Dunkirk. What’s more amazing is that the story is told with very little dialogue. Despite the fact that there are 400,000 soldiers on that beach, they communicate with actions rather than words. Kenneth Branagh, as Commander Bolton, is in charge of the evacuation for the British and had as many lines as any other character as he discussed the low odds of evacuating even a fraction of the soldiers.
“Dunkirk” is a serious and intense movie. There are no laughs or lighter moments. It’s a serious movie about a serious subject. The movie takes place during World War II, but it’s not really a war movie. There are some great scenes of aerial combat, and a torpedo or two. But “Dunkirk” is more about how each individual handles the circumstances presented to them.
“Dunkirk” has a huge scope that is mixed with intimate personal stories of the characters and their personal struggles. Given the spectacle of “Dunkirk,” it’s a movie that must be seen in theaters.
Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language.