Review - Dunkirk

Dunkirk (2017), PG-13, 1h 46min - Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors and I particularly enjoy war films, especially when they are based upon actual events.  So when trailers for this film first hit the internet I knew it was one that I was definitely going to see (it was even number five on my Most Anticipated Films of 2017 list earlier this year).  Dunkirk provides a look at World War II from a different point of view (i.e. not American), through Nolan's unique, non-linear presentation.

For those like myself, who are not well versed in the specifics of such historical events, here is a little context: the events shown in this film took place in 1940 after France had been invaded by Nazi Germany.  The Germans had pushed Allied forces to the point where retreating to the beaches of Dunkirk was their only option.  In doing so, the Allied troops became trapped between their shrinking perimeter and the ocean, leaving themselves open to attack from the air while awaiting extraction.

As he has been known to do, Christopher Nolan tells this story in a non-linear fashion, splitting the narrative between three different groups and their experiences of the events.  Even though he lays this out at the beginning of the film, as the viewer it can still be a little difficult at times to piece the timeline together properly.  If you should miss his prompts as each group is introduced, I can only imagine how difficult it may be to keep things straight, so be sure to pay attention!  The differing timelines in the film break down like this: the events on The Mole (beach) represent a week's worth of time, The Sea - a day's worth of time, and The Air - an hour's worth of time.  For example, you see the air force planes fly over ships in the first few minutes of the film, then mid-way through, you see a glimpse of that scene again from the ships' point of view as their timeline catches up.  I don't mean to make this sound more confusing than it actually is.  I do feel that if you're paying attention it isn't that difficult to piece together.

Nolan does an amazing job of orchestrating how the three points of view inform each other and fit together as the film progresses.  He ratchets up the intensity from the jump and keeps it at a high level throughout the film despite it not being your typical battle-filled war flick.  If you're expecting war violence the likes of Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down, you will likely be disappointed.  This is rated PG-13 after all.  What Dunkirk does instead, exceptionally well I might add, is tell the tale of the unbelievable efforts of retreat and survival, allowing these forces to live to fight another day.

As one might expect the cast is comprised of European actors, some who are well known to American audiences, such as Tom Hardy (Farrier), Cillian Murphy (Shivering Soldier), Mark Rylance (Mr. Dawson), Kenneth Branagh (Commander Bolton), and James D'Arcy (Colonel Winnant).  And others likely being seen for the first time that I'm aware of: Fionn Whitehead (Tommy), Aneurin Barnard (Gibson), Barry Keoghan (George), Tom Glynn-Carney (Peter), Jack Lowden (Collins) and Harry Styles (Alex) at least as far as his acting goes.

All in all, Dunkirk wasn't quite what I expected, but I liked that.  I assumed that it would be a 'standard' battle-filled war film, but what I found was an amazing, suspenseful re-telling of a historical turning point that I had previously known nothing about.  If you enjoy historically based films, Dunkirk is absolutely one to check out.  Getting a different view of events from World War II was refreshing and I thoroughly enjoyed this film.  It will definitely be added to my collection when it becomes available on blu-ray.

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