Directed by Christopher Nolan
Country: USA / UK / other
Over-the-top American director Christopher Nolan has been giving us countless moments of amazing cinema through irreproachable works such as “Memento”, "Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight”, and “Inception”.
If last year’s “Interstellar” didn’t catch my eye like the ones cited above, his historical war drama, “Dunkirk”, appealed to me through its quirky storytelling, thrilling scenes captured with the help of a phenomenal camerawork, the clever edition by Lee Smith, and the dazzling visuals supervised by the competent director of photography, Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Interstellar”, “Her”, “Spectre”).
During the World War II, the allied English and French troops get trapped in the Northern French city of Dunkirk, after being pushed to that deadlock by the enemy’s implacable actions. Only a miracle can save thousands of stranded soldiers who, surrounded by Germans and constantly under threat, wait patiently on the beach for an evacuation that seems to take forever to occur.
Nolan cleverly assembled his version of this famous warlike episode by portraying it through three different perspectives - land, sea, and air.
The mole of Dunkirk harbor is where Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh), the pier-master, and Colonel Winnant (James D'Arcy) are stationed. They analyze the difficult situation, showing visible signs of preoccupation as they are occasionally attacked by enemy planes. Without losing face in front of their men, they become visibly disappointed and hopeless when informed that the British Navy was relying on small civilian vessels to rescue their men rather than larger capital ships. Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is one of the lucky British privates that managed to reach the beach safely. Instead of joining the long lines to embark, he sneaks in a fishing trawler anchored outside the Allied jurisdiction area with two other friends. They are now part of a group of wounded Scottish soldiers who wait for the rising tide to be evacuated. However, an unforeseen German attack will thwart their plans.
The sea segment follows the courageous sailor Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), voluntary civilians who operate their small boat independently to help the Allies. They are exceptionally joined by George (Barry Keoghan), their teenage assistant ashore, for an eventful trip marked by the rescue of a soldier in shock (Cillian Murphy), the only survivor of a wrecked ship put down by a German U-boat.
At sea, they also spot three RAF Spitfires flying over their heads. The pilots have very specific orders to provide air support in Dunkirk, but struggle with fuel limitations. The aerial sequences become easily the most spectacular scenes, also displaying realistic and often jaw-dropping air battles.
The images speak for themselves and despite the three distinct fields of action, the film’s narrative never feels disjointed or confusing. You won’t see smiles here, but the hope never abandons our heroes whose struggle becomes quite palpable. One can feel their unshakeable camaraderie, even in the toughest moments.
“Dunkirk” was conceived in a more psychological way rather than sending us directly to the battlefields. This was another aspect I truly enjoyed. There’s no bloodshed or explicit violence, and the enemy is an invisible presence that haunts and excruciates.
Nolan is a perfectionist and his remarkable account of Dunkirk’s episode spawns a distinguished and unpretentious epic war film whose outcome is powerful and sublime.