Susan Granger’s review of “Dunkirk” (Warner Bros.)
W.W.II’s Miracle of Dunkirk has never been addressed in American cinema. It details the epic rescue of 338,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, France: the biggest evacuation in military history.
From May 27 to June 4, 1940, the Allies were surrounded on all sides by German forces (never named, just referred to as “the enemy”), while the Luftwaffe repeatedly buzzed and bombarded the beaches.
Since the water was too shallow for destroyers to get close to the beach, brave British civilians volunteered to cross the English Channel in everything from fishing boats to barges to retrieve the troops – while under constant bombardment.
Filmmaker Christopher Nolan (the “Dark Knight” trilogy, “Inception,” “Interstellar”) tells the suspenseful survival story from three meticulously interwoven perspectives, based on fictional characters.
The terrified men on the beach are personified by Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), who joins a fellow soldier (Aneurin Barnard) and an infantryman (Harry Styles) in a desperate fight to make it off the mole, an eight-foot-wide pier that’s overseen by Naval Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh).
There’s the aerial perspective of Farrier (Tom Hardy), a senior RAF Spitfire fighter pilot who has only one hour to take out Nazi planes and provide cover for the men on the ground and in the water.
Sailing from England, there’s a small, wooden yacht, resolutely piloted by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) with his teenage son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and tagalong pal George (Barry Keoighan). En route, they save a shivering, shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) from a torpedoed ship.
Utilizing minimal dialogue and eliminating backstory, Nolan relies on cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s visual imagery, Hans Zimmer’s music and primal sound to propel the visceral drama.
Since Nolan shot with IMAX cameras, try to see “Dunkirk” on a six-story IMAX screen. It’s like virtual reality without the headset.
FYI: Pop heartthrob Harry Styles of the beloved boy band One Direction makes an auspicious acting debut. Because of his presence, his devoted fans around the world will get a much-needed history lesson.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Dunkirk” is a taut, tension-filled 10 – the most intense, immersive war story since “Saving Private Ryan.”