Movie Review: Dunkirk’s a Dynamic War Drama

Movie Review: Dunkirk’s a Dynamic War Drama
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. He is a graduate of Journalism and Performing Arts from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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Few war movies challenge the basic formula and themes of those before it, using heroic characters in dangerous places to showcase what history was like. Dunkirk, the latest blockbuster with a backbone from director Christopher Nolan, is not like those movies. It’s the best war film since Saving Private Ryan.

Nolan’s accomplishing the same goal (as war stories often can’t do much else,) but like most of his previous works, he’s doing it with a different way of telling a story on film. Instead of long scenes of dialogues and inspiring speeches, Dunkirk is two hours of non-stop action and dynamic rescue scenes.

Music and motion depict what happened at Dunkirk Beach, and the result is an exciting, tight, and fascinating film. Without desperately trying to be authentic, it’s a digestible way of imaging what the desperate and desolate conditions were like for ground soldiers in the war.

Based on the real-life Dunkirk evacuation, the actual plot revolves around English troops fighting in early WWII. In summer 1940, the enemy pushed and trapped 400,000 British men on the beaches of northern France.

Unable to get home, the film follows various teams of unnamed soldiers and civilians working on land, sea, and air to bring the defeated troops safely home. The only trouble is the beach could be stormed and the men killed at any moment.

There are some scenes of grand escapes and sinking ships, showing the power and fury of war. Others show the intimacy between the soldiers, friends, commanders, and the men back home. Switching between them doesn’t feel inconsistent; it’s actually the opposite.

Like the waves rolling on the beach, there’s a consistent ebb and flow to the action on screen. Time is an important motivator here for Nolan, heard with the sound of a ticking clock throughout. The editing builds such a frantic pace the action is non-stop nearly the entire 100 minutes.

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures.

The cast is made of some talented young newcomers and a number of great English performers like Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh. The adults also feature actors who Nolan has worked with before and their camaraderie shows its skill. Two highlights include Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Cillian Murphy (Inception, Batman Begins.)

For anyone worried about the film’s intensity, it’s compelling and action-packed with scenes of peril, but it’s not brutally gross or visually unsettling. There’s no coarse language or even any gore beyond a few cuts, but this is definitely not for children. There’s enough bombs and sinking ships that make it too intense for kids.

At my screening, most of the audience was thrilled at the end, but it wasn’t unanimous either. Anyone who prefers more conventional war stories with detailed characters and poignant speeches will be disappointed. If you don’t like any of Nolan’s other films (like those above, or Interstellar and The Prestige) this one isn’t much different.

But Nolan’s creative and efficient approach has crafted the best film of his career and the best war movie this century. Dunkirk is this year’s first serious Oscar-contender of the year. Anybody hoping for dramatic heft and skill in their summer spectacular will be in heaven – as will most audiences looking for a smart, sharp, artful movie.

4 out of 4 stars

PG, 107 minutes. History Action Drama Epic.
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Starring Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branagh.
Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, Cineplex Winston Churchill and Cineplex Oakville & VIP. Also in IMAX.


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