War Is Hell
Almost eighty years ago, during the height of WWII, the Allies were on the ropes. The Battle of Dunkirk had pushed the British and French back to the coast of France, forcing an evacuation that little know about. The battered Allied forces were on the verge of losing. The Germans were confident victory and world supremacy were well within their grasp.
The Brits decided to cut their losses and evacuate to England in order to ramp up to defend their homeland for the next inevitable onslaught.
The only reason the evacuation was as successful as it was came from the Germans dropping the ball and giving a “Halt Order”, stopping their forward momentum for three days, allowing the Allies to regroup and get the hell off the beach.
In Christopher Nolan’s 2017 masterpiece Dunkirk, he shows us those very events.
The film is almost three different movies, taking place on land, sea and air. As with his other films, he jumps through time a bit, not in the way Memento (2000) did, but in a way that fits this particular story. He contracts and expands it such that might be hard for some to follow, intersecting plot points and merging them into an eventual, satisfying conclusion.
Nolan takes the minimalist approach throughout the film. The dialogue is little to none or at all in most of the movie. The director relies heavily on the cinematography, the gorgeous exteriors, the horrors of war. He frames every scene gorgeously; the death and destruction are in some insane way beautiful to behold. It’s not a Saving Private Ryan (1998) level of gore but you will feel yourself tensing as the action unfolds.
Following a young British soldier, you feel his urgency to get away from the gunfire, to find his way home.
The British war department embargoed commercial fishing and recreational boats from private citizens to rescue the troops from Dunkirk. The Germans were dive bombing the battleships attempting to rescue the troops from the beach and their insidious U-boats were sinking them from below.
An older father, his son and his friend head out to sea to do what they can to rescue their countrymen. What they accomplish is amazing.
Probably my favorite part of the film was the aerial dog-fighting. What those pilots could do with those aircraft was simply astonishing. Imagine flying at 150 miles per hour, trying to hit a moving target in the air while not getting obliterated yourself.
Nolan captures the air sequences perfectly. He puts you IN the cockpit. I actually felt the heat and, after a bit, it seemed like the aircraft was closing in around me, a slight sense of claustrophobia setting in.
My only complaint is that I didn’t see it in the theater in all its glory. (My wife did, damn her eyes!)
The film focuses on two of those pilots and what they do to protect their men on the ground and at sea.
I’m sure Nolan took some liberty with the accuracy of the historical data (most filmmakers do), but it didn’t bother me as I hadn’t known the full story of the Battle of Dunkirk. Does it really matter if a hospital ship was bombed or not? No, in the end a ship is sank and lives are lost. It was the powerful story I was totally invested in.
It’s not a movie for everyone, though. If you’re looking for another gung-ho, guns-a-blazin’ war movie, this is not it. Dunkirk is a careful slow-burn, one you have to immerse yourself in to fully appreciate; a study on what lengths human beings are capable of when the call comes.
If you’re American, you may only notice a few recognizable actors. Kenneth Branaugh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance, to name a few. If you have a daughter, she’ll point out singer/now actor Harry Styles and shriek and maybe faint.
If you’re British, you may recognize a lot more. In the end, the faces don’t matter. You find yourself fully absorbed in the unfolding story.
One thing you will not do is remember ANY of the characters names (at least I didn’t). It’s not one of those movies. It’s all about the events and the nameless human beings trying to save one other from certain hell. The story of what that generation had to do to endure, not only for their own country, but for the world.
As fantastic as Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is, equally impressive is the Hans Zimmer score. Once again, Zimmer is Nolan’s go-to guy. His music isn’t overpowering like some of his previous work, but a character in itself. See if you notice the steady ticking of a watch. Apparently, it was Christopher Nolan’s own pocket watch that Zimmer ran through a synthesizer to keep that feeling of time slipping away, a sense of dread on the horizon.
I was also fascinated to know that many of the boats that saved those young soldiers are still in use today!
One of the most, if not THE, amazing films of 2017. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed. Christopher Nolan has done it again. Dunkirk is a masterpiece in film-making. They truly were the “Greatest Generation”.
Just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to see it.
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. and even if this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
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