Monday, July 24, 2017

A Reel Review: DUNKIRK

In 1940 during the Second World War, 400,000 Allied troops were stranded on the shores of Dunkirk, France, and were unreachable by their own rescue efforts. Defenseless, they were bombarded from air and sea by German forces, and were eventually rescued by civilians in their own personal craft, simply because they cared. It was a disaster and a miracle in history, and often overlooked despite being ripe with themes of duty and bravery. The story now comes to the big screen, and is given the highest honor it deserves by writer/director Christopher Nolan and DUNKIRK.

Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young British private, races to escape the enemy with his fellow soldiers, while Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), sets out with his private yacht to rescue troops with his young son (Tom Glynn-Carney), and his best friend (Barry Keoghan). Overhead, a pair of Royal Air Force pilots (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden), battle German air forces in an attempt to protect the rescue effort, despite running dangerously low on fuel.

DUNKIRK is a film which is shown through three different perspectives; land, sea, and air. Aware of the grand scale that he is working with, director Christopher Nolan uses three characters (Tommy, Dawson, and a pilot) to act as surrogates for the audience. Nolan literally drops us right in the middle of the battles and the desperate evacuation attempts, and tagging along with the characters injects a lot of humanity into the film, along with a shit-ton of anxiety in getting away from the hellish war. Dialogue is kept to an absolute minimum as Nolan embraces other methods of expression, making it almost seem like a silent film in places.

Time was the greatest enemy at Dunkirk; they had to get off the shores before the enemy arrived or just bombed them to bits from above. Nolan uses the concept of time to his advantage, and shows us the three perspectives in their own timelines (for example, Tom Hardy’s character defends a small ship, and later in the film we see who was on that ship and why it was so important). The method is used to have all of the storylines converge at a particular moment, and when they do, it is extremely impactful. Ever the detail-oriented director, Nolan uses placeholders such as vehicles, watches, and fuel-status to help the audience along and realize where they are in any given timeline. It is an ambitious and mind-wrecking method in both concept and execution.

After all the messing about with time and rescue efforts, DUNKIRK at its core is a war movie, and Nolan delivers. The film is extremely immersive as its surrounds us with the battles; from city streets to air raids…the attacks are absolutely harrowing. The aerial battles specifically are fantastic and dizzying, and Nolan even dips his toes into the horror-movie genre by showing us what it’s like to be below-deck on a sinking ship. The usage of practical effects; actual vehicles and stunts and zero CGI, adds to the tremendous sense of realism and the visuals are constantly breathtaking. The sound-mixing adds to the “holy shit” moments, and Hans Zimmer’s score is a pulse-pounder which makes the ticking-clock situation up front and in our faces.

Acting is superb. Mark Rylance gets the most lines in a film which barely has dialogue, and fully expresses the desperation of the situation along with his character’s own sense of duty to country. Cillian Murphy drops in as a rescued shell-shocked soldier, and gets a lot of heavy-lifting to do. Other roles held down by Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, and Harry Styles are done very well. The unsung hero in DUNKIRK is Tom Hardy. Hardy spends nearly all of his screentime under his pilot’s mask and goggles, which gives him the opportunity to act only with his eyes…and he delivers in amazing ways.

The situation during those days at Dunkirk in 1940 was desperate; if the evacuation failed, the war may have been lost a full year before the U.S. even got involved. This fact is never lost in the film, and by the time the rousing and haunting finale wraps up, the importance of its success is driven home with a well-placed salute by Nolan. In the modern era of lazy filmmaking, DUNKIRK is a miracle, and if movies are to educate and inspire us, this stands amongst the best of them. All it took to bring it home was a director who cared.



This Blogger highly recommends seeing DUNKIRK in an IMAX or 70mm presentation. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.