By George M. Thomas
It’s spectacular filmmaking without an emphasis on any one character. In the case of DUNKIRK, its story is the one large character looming throughout with actors playing their roles without the benefit of grandeur and long-winded speeches that sometimes typify what audiences and filmmakers believe a war film to be.
Director Christopher Nolan assumes the mission of telling the story of DUNKIRK, a World War II battle that could have been epically disastrous for European Allied forces. The result is stunning – breathtaking cinematography and the telling of the story from multiple perspectives.
On the ground, we watch as two soldiers in particular do almost anything they can to survive the continued assault on them and their colleagues as they try to evacuate DUNKIRK. Their experience provides enough drama so that Nolan, who also wrote the script, doesn’t have to provide it via artificial means.
Oscar winner Mark Rylance (BRIDGE OF SPIES) brings to the forefront the tales of the sea as he portrays Mr. Dawson, a dutiful British citizen answer the call for civilians with boats to help ferry some of the 400,000 soldiers from DUNKIRK via their vessels.
In many ways, much of the drama and tension contained in within the film comes from Dawson’s efforts. He brings his teen-age son and his friend along to aid the mission and eventually they must contend with a shell shocked member of the British forces (Cillian Murphy) who’s suffering through the ordeal.
Lastly, in the air we’re provided the perspective of two British spitfire pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) as they work together to try to prevent German planes from picking off their brothers in arms.
Each storyline offers something compelling in its own right, including performances. From the air, maintaining steely resolve in the face of ridiculously bad odds. From the sea: the sense of duty that comes from knowing your country is doing something right. And from the land: contending with the prospect of your own mortality when life has just begun for you.
In that regard in the manner which Nolan shot the film (different aspect ratios depending on situation), DUNKIRK feels like several films within the movie, each offering something unique while Nolan maintains its cohesion.
In that regard, DUNKIRK is positively brilliant, but Nolan successfully plants us in the middle of all of these tales to provide an immersive experience. The audience is on the ground or the cockpit or the boat. More importantly, however, he allows us to experience the basic humanity involved. Empathy may very well be the greatest gift a filmmaker provides fans.
And make no mistake, DUNKIRK, though a feast for the eyes, also proves to be a soul-stirring masterpiece of filmmaking.
Cast: Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense war experience and some language