Sunday, July 23, 2017

Movie Review: Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan depicts the great effort to evacuate British soldiers during the early part of World War II in his latest film. With Dunkirk surrounded, the soldiers try to flee on battleships but planes continue to drop bombs and sink them. The story plays out in three parts and three timelines, the first story "The Mole" plays out over a week on the beach, the second "The Sea" in one day, and "The Air" in one hour. The soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) tries to escape the beach any way he can from carrying the sick to hiding in an abandoned craft. He teams up with a silent soldier Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) to carry a wounded man aboard a destroyer but then they are both ordered off the ship so hide below the dock. They hear Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Colonel Winnant (James D'Arcy) discuss the situation on the beach. On a dock back in England, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) see the Royal Navy commandeering boats so they decide to set sail themselves to help the truth bringing along young George (Barry Keoghan).

In the air, Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) fly towards the beach. Their greatest worry beyond the enemy planes is fuel, especially when Farrier's gauge breaks. The two pilots take down enemy planes with stunning scenes of air battle, probably the best part about watching the film in theaters. Back on the beach, Timothy and Gibson escape a sinking ship and help soldiers out of the water. They venture to another ship where they allowed on board and given tea and toast. Gibson does not go below deck but Timothy goes with Alex (Harry Styles) to eat the food. When a torpedo hits that ship, the men scramble to swim above the surface and Gibson saves their lives by opening the door so they can swim out. Mr. Dawson picks up a soldier (Cillian Murphy) shivering on a sunken U-Boat. The soldier desperately wants to not go back to the beach at Dunkirk having seen what happened.

The film keeps up a sense of tension almost entirely through these scenes of soldiers defying death with a powerful soundtrack from Hans Zimmer. Collins's plane is hit and he pilots it into the water as Farrier continues on to provide protection for the British Destroyers. As the men on the beach watch the bodies float in with the tide, they seek a new way off the beach and find a trawler that is stuck on the shore. As they wait for the tide to come in, they must risk the fire from the enemy and Alex's accusals of Gibson as a German spy. As bullet holes fill the hull, the water rushes in but any soldier that tries to plug it gets shot. The soldier aboard Mr. Dawson's boat grows angry as their course stays set towards Dunkirk. He fights Mr. Dawson for the wheel but knocks George below deck. George hits his head and goes blind as Peter tries to help him. 

Collins is unable to open his cockpit to get out of his sinking plane and the water steadily rises. Mr. Dawson has seen the plane go down and heads towards it, suspecting that the pilot may still be alive. Timothy and the other soldiers find themselves floating on a sinking ship and abandon it only to swim towards a destroyer that is hit by bombs. Farrier takes down another plane but his fuel reserves finally give out, sending him coasting through the air. The sea water is covered in oil as Mr. Dawson and Peter load men aboard their ship, trying to fit as many as possible. Timothy dives underwater to try and flee the fire. All three stories converge as Peter rescues Timothy from the water and Farrier manages one last turn to take out a German bomber. The film ends with the empowering words of Winston Churchill about never surrendering.

Dunkirk offers a look at the massive scale of the military evacuation during the advance of German troops, a possible turning point in World War II. From the great shots of the soldiers lined up on the beach to the sinking destroyers and the swooping planes, Christopher Nolan makes a film that is grand in size and epic despite the very close nature of the story. While only depicting one event and for one part only an hour, a sense of the war can be taken that is both horrifying and inspiring. The will to survive is strong in humans and when all the odds are against them, they will still struggle to find a way and even help each other during a sense of great danger. I enjoyed the film and appreciate Nolan's filmmaking with all of the great topics he takes on.

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