In May of 1940, near the start of WWII in the European Theater, Nazi Germany broke through Allied lines in France, trapping all Allied soldiers on the French beaches of Dunkirk. In what became one of the largest military evacuations in history, hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers were methodically rescued from the beaches using any and all civilian and naval vessels possible.
And to pay tribute to this very important piece of history, we get the newly released film Dunkirk, a worthwhile flick that portrays Allied soldiers at their strongest and weakest points. Turning out many captivating performances, Dunkirk portrays the evacuation from many key points of view.
Director Christopher Nolan, a filmmaking purist who prefers to shoot on film over digital, displays remarkable talent in his ability to capture the chaos and grit of warfare. With Nolan’s films, especially Dunkirk, you get a sense of genuineness in what happens on-screen, that what you see is exactly what you get. You can tell the film hasn’t been filtered or altered a million times over in post-production, and that most of the stunts pulled off are completed using practical effects.
The camera work in Dunkirk reminded me a lot of Saving Private Ryan, in that the camera itself gets up-close and intimate with the actors. This gives the audience a firsthand view of the tragedy and disarray, which is much more compelling and rousing than seeing it happen from far-off angles. There is one scene in particular that exemplifies this well, and it’s when a British ship is hit by a German torpedo. In a typical war film, we might see the Germans actually launch the torpedo, then watch as it glides through the water and impacts the ship, causing a large explosion. In Dunkirk, we see an indiscernible object about twenty feet from the boat, somebody yells “Torpedo!”, and the boat is struck with an ear piercing sound. And instead of seeing the explosion from the outside, the audience is given a view from inside the ship, as the soldiers struggled to make it to the deck and avoid drowning. Again, this style of up-close and personal camera work gave a certain level of realism to the picture that few war movies successfully achieve.
Another thing I noticed in particular about Dunkirk was just how loud the film was. From the first bullet fired, everything sounded much louder than most movies you see. I feel that this may have been done intentionally, as too give a more realistic impression of warfare and just how loud the battles are. A nice little touch that many will find obnoxious, but I found necessary.
Dunkirk manages to flawlessly depict Allied soldiers at their most heroic (and feeble) moments during a crucial point in WWII history. While the film does take several liberties, neglecting several important aspects of the evacuation (like the heavy involvement of French soldiers), I still feel that Dunkirk does its best to be historically accurate. The film exhibits a powerful cast, a strong sense of realism, and displays the talents of a director who knows how to functionally make a movie work. Giving audiences an intense experience that all war movies should strive for.
The Verdict: A