With their backs against the wall, the story of Dunkirk guides us on the journey of a different kind of hero.
The subject of War in movies and television is a tough subject to to tackle. On one hand, realism is under the microscope as the viewer wants the film to be respectful of heroes portrayed, be that fictional or and the other hand, the subject has been tackled and perfected many times over. Creating a new and inventive take on World War Two was a task only the best director of this generation could accomplish. With Christopher Nolan’s tenth film, Dunkirk narrates the stand-off on the Beach of Dunkirk from the nameless heroes perspective.
Most films about World War Two deal with a certain subject or character. Schindler’s List is a dark and haunting story about none man’s will to save the lives of thousands of Jewish people from concentration camps. Saving Private Ryan is a hyper realistic take on the gruesome nature of up close battle through fictional search for a lost soldier. Most recently, Hacksaw Ridge centers around Desmond Doss, a Christian that uses his spiritual convictions as a medic to save hundreds on the battlefield. In each of these films, the enemy is a clear and present entity. They were seen from all angles and in many instances, we actually get to know the villain personally. All of these stories serve a purpose in showing the best and the worst of human nature in times of war. With Dunkirk, Nolan decided to take simpler, more conservative take on the battle. A gamble that pays off triumphantly.
In this film, the enemy is never seen. There are no shots of Nazi’s invading, no main character associated with with the German Air Force, no scenes of dialogue between our characters and their foe. However, with the viewer in a constant state of claustrophobia as with Nolan’s breathtaking cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s beautifully unique score, Dunkirk delivers the most emotionally effective war drama’s in a decade.
Set in three different timelines (the beach, the air, and the sea,) all taking place over the course of the week-long quest for safety and rescue. We are thrown right into the rescue mission the minute of the film starts from only the perspective of the heroes this story focuses. Rather than chronicle the successes of a famous general or platoon, Nolan gives a face to many nameless soldiers and civilians as he tells the story of the everyday hero of Dunkirk.
From a secular point of view, the decision to remove all the gore and death was an interesting take. Movie goers have been used to seeing the action so close that we almost feel in the action, as disturbing and haunting as it is. From the Christian point of view, focusing more on the accomplishments and the emotional ramifications rather than the physical is a great way for everyone to understand the emotions of war. Rather than simply toning the action down, Nolan relied more on tense situations and large sets as a spectacle. The feeling of being hunted over the course of an hour from the perspective of Farrier, the loneliness at sea over the course of a day with Dawson, and the feeling of helplessness being trapped in the beach from Tommy over the course of a week allow this film to serve more like a classic Ford, Huston, or Capra film rather than the uptempo nature of recent masterpieces by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
From a mechanics and cinematography point of view this film is just about perfect. Every bullit shot, every bomb dropped, every explosion surround our characters at the same tone. The film can get so loud and engulfing at times it became a hard to hear or understand the dialogue. At no point does this present a problem as the point here is to feel the confusing and terrifying nature of being surrounded by fire on from all directions. This coupled with Hans Zimmer’s persistent ticking within the score ensure this film does not drag at any point, despite taking place in so few locations.
There are two complaints to be had with this film, but the one glaring issue with this film is the underwhelming use of the cast. With player such as Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Barry Koegan, and Kenneth Branagh set in such a character driven movie you would think it we are in for powerful and moving scenes. Instead, they get lost in the background and at times their presence can take you out of the movie. Also, the timeline can also be confusing. At the beginning of the film, the mole is described to take place over a week, the sea is supposed to take place over a day, and the air is to take place over an hour. However, since they are all taking place simultaneously, the movie can jump around too often, leaving us confused as to where our characters left off.
Despite those issues, the film accomplished what it sets out to do. We get a grand scale film meant to show the heroic nature of the the every unknown solider lost to history. The every day citizens that became heroes without a face or a name written in our history books. Those persons that should be remembered. Whoever and wherever they are.
Dunkirk, Runtime: 106 minutes, PG-13