A Big World War II Rescue Mission: 'Dunkirk' Review
The movie Dunkirk takes a look at the rescue of some 400,000 British soldiers from the perspectives of land, sea, and air. The story often looks at a British private named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), who barely avoids being killed by the Germans in the French beach city. The beach itself isn't that much safer, as German pilots bomb and fire on the beach as the British try and evacuate, while Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) oversees this operation. Tommy and another soldier try to gain access to a rescue ship by carrying a wounded soldier to the craft, but only the wounded soldier gets aboard. Tommy then hides under a pier in an effort to stow away with the next departing craft. Instead, he witnesses the ship getting sunk, but does rescue Alex (Harry Styles), a private aboard the ship.
Across the English Channel, the English Navy enlists the private crafts in the water to aid in the rescue. After receiving a supply of life jackets, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and boat hand George (Barry Keoghan) depart for France without receiving orders. Their first rescue is that of a shivering soldier (Cillian Murphy), whose emotional state proves to be a handful for the civilians. RAF pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), carrying just enough fuel to reach the French store, engage the German pilots who have had great success targeting the British and French forces.
Dunkirk is not based on any person's war story, but on the heroic overall effort. Dunkirk, in that way, reminds me of The Monuments Men, which also did not tell any specific story, or use the actual names of the participants. Writer-director Christopher Nolan shows one day's efforts in a mission that took close to two weeks to complete. The story of Tommy may be the primary tale, but Nolan does a fine job of presenting an overview of the rescue from many viewpoints. Even though of this film presents a generalization of the mission, Nolan engages the viewers in the fate of these people, knowing that some of them will give their lives in this effort. That starts with the opening sequence, when Tommy is the only soldier in his group to escape the city alive. There, and throughout the film, Nolan shows very little of the German forces, and the enemy combatants have no speaking lines. Their presence is very much felt, on the beach, in the air, and on the water.
Branagh, Hardy, Rylance, and Murphy have had prominent roles in big films, but here, each provides effective support. Bolton stays in his spot on the pier, even as the fighting continues. Farrier does as much in his Spitfire as he calculates his remaining fuel. Mr. Dawson remains resolute in his mission, even as his first rescue objects. Whitehead doesn't say much as Tommy, but he takes viewers through quite a bit as he tries to make his way to safety. His actions aren't always heroic, though he takes steps to show he wants to help get others back to their home country. Styles, the One Direction singer, makes a good acting debut as Alex, a soldier who eventually becomes Tommy's travel companion. He gets to show his compassion as he gives aid to a French soldier who makes the journey to England. Michael Caine, who has contributed to every Nolan feature starting with Batman Begins, provides the voice of the Fortis leader as he gives instructions to Farrier and Collins.
In his previous feature, Interstellar, Nolan took a poignant look at a future that might be if man doesn't do more to care for the environment. In Dunkirk, he poignantly looks at a mission that called for a most unusual collaboration. Some speculate that World War II might have gone differently were it not for efforts such as the ones depicted in this movie. While the Germans proclaimed "We surround you" in the leaflets they dropped on their opposition, the British and French showed they were unwilling to give up the fight. This mission shows the importance of taking a stand, even as forces scramble to regroup.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Dunkirk 3.5 stars. A flight to ensure a fight another day.