Six young soldiers make their way down an abandoned city street, the shuttered buildings looming over them like tombstones, as leaflets bearing ominous words of warning fall from the sky. Seemingly undeterred, they start searching for supplies only to start running for dear life when a hail of unseen gunfire erupts. Out of the six, only one manages to make it over the perimeter and onto the nearby beach, where thousands of soldiers wait for either deliverance or death.
This is the conflict at the heart of “Dunkirk,” an epic that recreates one of history’s most harrowing moments. In my opinion, however, Christopher Nolan’s latest tour de force is so much more than a typical war film. It’s an intimate depiction of battle and a much-needed reminder of how perseverance can bring us together in our darkest hours.
Inspired by the “Miracle at Dunkirk,” an event which led to the successful evacuation of over 338,000 Allied troops from Nazi-occupied France, the film revolves around three separate storylines – a soldier’s struggle to stay alive amidst constant enemy bombardments, a father and son’s journey across the English Channel to aid the beleaguered Allied Forces, and a pilot’s attempt to prevent Luftwaffe planes from interfering with the evacuation – interwoven into a single narrative. Despite their radically different objectives, the central characters inadvertently come together in their quest to survive the odds and save their fellow countrymen.
Mr. Nolan, who serves as the film’s writer and director, chooses to cut back and forth between the three segments, each of which transpires in a different time frame. Rather than disrupt the narrative’s flow, this approach keeps the tension at its highest and leaves us in a constant state of suspense. By the time the film reaches its inevitable climax, the strands become entwined and the narrative becomes even more engrossing than it was at the onset.
Mr. Nolan also chooses to keep the dialogue at a minimum and let other factors – be it the actors’ facial expressions and body language or composer Hans Zimmer’s breathtaking musical score – do the talking. As a result, the minute details become more noticeable and keeps us immersed in the world of “Dunkirk” until the very end.
While I won’t wax lyrical about each individual member of the ensemble cast, which includes actor-filmmaker Kenneth Branagh and Academy Award-winning actor Mark Rylance, I would like to take this opportunity to applaud cinematic newcomers Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles for their respective portrayals of two British Army privates trapped on Dunkirk’s beaches. For their combined feature film debut, both men make the most of their roles, offering a brave and naked depiction of the 1940s British soldier.
If there’s one movie you must see before summer’s end, I recommend seeing “Dunkirk”. Not only is it a harrowing depiction of battle, but also an intimate story weighted with raw emotion and fueled by our collective desire to emerge victorious from the battles of yesterday, today and tomorrow.