I SAW A MOVIE: “Dunkirk”
I’ve always been a fan of Christopher Nolan movies. The stories are pretty solid and they are consistently gorgeous. With his new film Dunkirk, Nolan is perhaps stepping into his most uncharted territory yet, for it is both a historical drama as well as an experimental film.
Dunkirk captures the chaos of the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II, when thousands of British soldiers were stranded on the French coast with only the English Channel to separate them between home and death. With a cast made up of both young, unknown actors and award-winning thespians, Nolan shoots the action in three locations: the shore, the sea, and the sky.
The scenes on the shore follow Tommy, a young British soldier trying to get home. Teaming up with soldiers Gibson and Alex, they try to work their way onto multiple ships sailing back towards England, only to have each one sunk by the Germans. Out at sea, local man Dawson takes his boat out to help with the evacuation, taking along his son Peter and Peter’s friend George. Picking up a shell-shocked soldier and a downed pilot, the small crew discovers that war is not always fought on land. In the air, Farrier must shoot down enemy planes, protecting his fellow soldiers while they evacuate, while also dealing with his broken guage, which is unable to inform him of his fuel supply.
Realizing that each element would take a different amount of time to occur, Nolan shoots all three chapters in different timelines: the shore scenes take place within a week, the sea within a day, and the air in one hour. This makes sense, because it wouldn’t feel right for a lengthy, multiple-day battle on land to take the same amount of time as one flight across the Channel. Nolan breaks up the scenes, meaning that the audience has to remind themselves where they are in the timeline and where the characters fit in with each other.
The acting in Dunkirk is splendid, with only unknown actor Fionn Whitehead, as Tommy, being the film’s true lead. Kenneth Branagh appears as Commander Bolton, the watchful pier-master during the evacuation, while Mark Rylance plays the concerned yet patriotic Dawson, a man willing to risk everything for his country. Cillian Murphy does a great job playing the unnamed Shivering Soldier, the shell-shocked man pulled from the water, and Tom Hardy leads his scenes as pilot Farrier, able to pull off some intense aerial battle scenes with very little dialogue.
Those who are fans of Nolan’s more flashier blockbusters may find Dunkirk to be a little tedious at times. It is certainly Nolan’s most atmospheric movie, relying very little on dialogue and more on tension and mood. With the overlapping timelines, is also his most experimental film since Memento. However, Dunkirk is a fine achievement in filmmaking, sure to go down as one of the better made war epics in recent years.