Dunkirk is written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who’s known most famously for the Dark Knight trilogy. The film centers around the Dunkirk evacuation, where Allied forces are pushed back by the Nazi’s to the beach in Dunkirk, France in late May 1940. They have to retreat to England soon or else face annihilation by German forces. The problem is that there’s only one port that can handle large ships and it’s under constant attack by German planes. In response, the military requests small civilian boats to head over to Dunkirk to help rescue soldiers (since they’re small enough to come right up to the beach). With help from the Royal Air Force, nearly 400,000 troops were safely evacuated to Britain.
The movie has 3 different plotlines. One focuses on the soldiers stuck on the beach. The second focuses on a dad and his two kids who answer the call and head to Dunkirk to aid in the rescue, despite the danger involved in doing that. The third focuses on airforce pilots and their efforts to take down Nazi warplanes. Nolan switches between the 3 plots throughout the movie and they all join together by the end. This movie is a little under 2 hours long and it gets into the action almost immediately after it starts. There isn’t much backstory provided, so it’s important to research the background of Dunkirk before you go and watch this.
In short, Dunkirk is a near-masterpiece. It’s a thriller that puts you on the edge of your seat throughout the runtime and only lets up for small amounts of time. What makes this movie unique is that it doesn’t focus on the characters, but the event itself. In most war movies, we focus on a single character as they go through an event. In this case, the movie focuses on the event itself. It does focus particularly on a soldier played by One Direction’s Harry Styles, a father played by Mark Rylance, and a pilot played by Tom Hardy. However, there’s no backstory on any of these characters. Instead, we only see them as they go through this event. We see from their perspective, the events of Dunkirk.
Dunkirk is more of an experience than a movie. The camerawork makes us feel that we’re there right alongside these people. It makes us feel that we’re in the war, instead of watching the war. The sound work influences this as well. When bullets are fired, they are as loud as real bullets. When planes approach the soldiers on the beach, their roar will almost make your ears ring. When a ships sinks, the camera is at water level showing struggling soldiers trying to escape. The camera shows the airplane dogfight scenes in detail. Since minimal computer effects are used, it makes it all the more real. In fact, some of the small boats that were used in the movie were the actual boats that aided in the rescue in 1940. It all feels as if a cameraman were there with the troops in 1940, filming what was happening in real time. It makes the movie very realistic and horrifying. You’ll feel exhausted (in a good way) by the end.
Dunkirk’s also almost a silent movie as the characters say few lines. The action and soundtrack propel it forward. While it could have provided more backstory on the event and the characters, Dunkirk is a fantastic movie. It’s not as memorable as other movies, but the experience you feel while watching it is unlike any other film. I’d give this a 90%. It’s the type of movie that’s made for the big screen and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not seeing it in a theater. Dunkirk is a unique experience that’s worth seeing. It is a fitting tribute to the troops who served there.
As a bonus, here’s news footage of the event.