Dunkirk (2017) Director: Christopher Nolan
Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s great war film about the Battle of France in which allied soldiers were pushed back to the beaches at Dunkirk awaiting evacuation across the English Channel to Britain. It tells the story in three separate time frames -land (soldiers trapped at Dunkirk in France), air (one noble soldier who shoots down Germans from the sky until his plane runs out of oil and he glides onto the beach facing capture by the Germans), and sea (civilians sailing across the Channel to save their fellow allied soldiers). It is a highly intense film as we follow the soldiers hiding and surviving, hoping the Germans do not find and kill them.
Tommy is the sole survivor of a German assault. He escapes to the beach at Dunkirk where he finds thousands of soldiers waiting for transportation across the Channel to get home to England. They can see the coast of England from the shoreline but there is no way to escape. German planes regularly bomb the beach, and Tommy tries to bring a wounded man aboard a hospital ship (hoping he may also be welcomed), but he is denied. Tommy rescues another soldier, Alex, out of the water and they try to escape together on a destroyer but it is sunk by a U-boat. They swim back to shore and spend the night with other soldiers, hiding inside a beached ship while drunken Germans shoot at the boat. As the tide rises, the bullet holes allow for water to seep in. One man drowns. Meanwhile, back in England, Dawson and his son Peter (and his young friend George) sail their civilian vessel out to rescue troops. They pick up a floating soldier who is shell-shocked and he tries to prevent them from heading back to Dunkirk. A scuffle ensues and George falls with an injury. As their little boat continues toward Dunkirk, they also rescue a British pilot floating in the water. At the last minute, as Dunkirk faces annihilation, British aircraft and civilian vessels arrive at Dunkirk to rescue over 300,000 men, more than Winston Churchill had hoped for (he had initially hoped for about 45,000). Winston Churchill’s famous speech on June 4th 1940 -“we shall fight on the beaches…” was in part an inspiring speech to the British people, in part a plea to the New World (America) to come to the aid of the old world (Europe), and it was a reference to what happened at Dunkirk.
Dunkirk received eight nominations from the Academy, including Nolan’s first nomination for directing. It became the highest global box office World War II selling film since Saving Private Ryan. Many of the scenes were shot on location at Dunkirk.
The concept for the film came to Christopher Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas when they sailed across the English Channel in the 1990s. Nolan used the film to continue his dramatic “snowball effect” theory of film. He was also attracted to the idea of inverting the traditional Hollywood formula: the battle was not a victory, but rather an escape, and no American forces were involved in the rescue or recovery. Nolan interviewed a variety of war veterans for the film.
Dunkirk is an amazing film, a rare breath of fresh air in today’s cinematic climate. It’s unique story-telling in multiple different time signatures, good acting, excellent directing from Christopher Nolan, top-notch special effects, and enthralling overall story make it a brilliant film, one of the best of 2017. It is a great war film.