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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "Dunkirk" a war film masterpiece

Jul 20, 2017 02:57PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Fionn Whitehead in Dunkirk - © 2017 Warner Bros.

Dunkirk (Warner Bros.)

Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language.

Starring Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy.

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan.



Pulling off a good war movie is a difficult task. There are so many logistics of battle that cannot fit perfectly into a theatrical film, let alone giving proper credence to the varying accounts of such struggles. One such battle happened at Dunkirk in the late spring of 1940, when the advancing Nazi army drove more than 400,000 British, French, Belgian, Polish and Dutch troops to the edge of the sea on the north shores of France. Facing annihilation, the soldiers had to rely on their wits, a massive civilian evacuation and a little luck to survive. Christopher Nolan, who has created successful films such as Interstellar, Inception, the Dark Knight trilogy, Memento and The Prestige wrote the screenplay and directs Dunkirk, in theaters this weekend.

Instead of using a linear approach to tell the story, Nolan masterfully weaves different points of view into some of the same scenes, mostly surrounding a single British soldier named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and his journey from the streets of Dunkirk through several attempts to cross the English Channel. Separately, the story unfolds at sea as a civilian pleasure boat owner named Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) captains a small crew including his son Peter (Tom Glyn-Carney) and a 14-year-old neighbor boy named George (Barry Keoghan) as they try to assist in the evacuation. Another perspective comes from Naval Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh), and Colonel Winnant (James D’Arcy) as they work to evacuate the men from the beach at Dunkirk. Lastly, another viewpoint comes from the battle in the air, as Spitfire fighter pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) thwart Nazi war planes that are attacking the boats full of retreating soldiers.

There’s not much to tell about the movie’s plot, unless you are unaware of the history of Dunkirk. The stories of the soldiers are fictional, but based on real battle accounts from survivors, who were part of the largest military evacuation in history. The significance of the Battle of Dunkirk may not be known to American audiences, but it was one of the greatest rallying cries of WWII, and its influence was felt as Allied forces returned to the shores of France 4 years later on D-Day in Normandy. It’s a story that deserves the reverence and attention of an artist like Christopher Nolan.

Dunkirk is by far one of the best films of the year, and perhaps Nolan’s true masterpiece. Interlacing the story with large-scale action and minimal dialogue gives Dunkirk a documentary ambiance and an authentic experience, creating tension right up to the end credits.

Nolan also insisted on using relatively unknown, young actors to portray the characters at the center of the story, giving even more authenticity to the film, while relying on talented veteran actors on the periphery.

The sound editing, sound design, film editing, special effects (which do not feel like overproduced Michael Bay fare) and production design all come together to make a movie that is worthy of praise, and I hope Dunkirk is not forgotten during the coming year-end awards season, despite its summer release. It is a film that is truly worthy of distinction.


Dunkirk Trailer