When 400,000 Men Couldn’t Get Home Home Came For Them “DUNKIRK”

Release Date: July 21, 2017
Running Time: 1 hour and 46 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language
Genre: Action, Drama, History
Written & Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Grade: A

“There’s no hiding from this, son.We have a job to do.”

Dunkirk is based on the true story of the defense and evacuation of 338,226 men from a small town in Dunkirk, France between May 26 and June 4, 1940.  Allied forces comprised of troops from the British Empire, France and Belgium were surrounded by German troops during a fierce battle in World War II. The event takes place eight months after the outbreak of the War and several weeks after Winston Churchill becomes the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Nolan’s Dunkirk is a story that many Americans may not be familiar with since it occurred prior to the United States involvement in WW II. Christopher Nolan wrote a 76-page screenplay about 25 years ago when he sailed across the English Channel to Dunkirk, but waited until he had more experience directing large-scale films to undertake the epic production.

Nolan sets up his masterpiece using a triptych style, whereas he tells the story from three converging perspectives (land, sea & air). One story takes place on the beach, another in boats and the third in planes. He filmed on location in Dunkirk, France in May 2016 and utilized approximately 6,000 extras for the beach scenes and cast young, British actors in the leading and supporting roles as British infantry. 

The film opens with a young British private named Tommy (portrayed by Fionn Whitehead in his first feature film) and several comrades walking in the town as flyers rain down from the sky.  Gunfire erupts and the scene is chaotic as they run towards the beach.

Nolan enlisted Nathan Crowley, his production designer from Interstellar, The Prestige and The Dark Knight to bring to assemble genuine era planes and boats. They used Supermarine Spitfires for the aerial sequences and a French destroyer masqueraded as a British destroyer. Twelve boats used in the production actually took park in the Dunkirk evacuation.

According to my research, more than 861 military and civilian boats assisted in the evacuation.  As many as 243 sunk.  The smaller boats were used as shuttles to bring men from the shallow waters out to the large vessels. 

Swiss-born Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar, Her and The Fighter) shot Dunkirk on IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film.  IMAX cameras were used in a hand held capacity for the first time in a feature film.  To film the night scenes, Hoytema used Panavision and IMAX lenses. The harrowing aerial photography is intense and incredible.  He also made use of practical effects versus special effects.   

Golden Globe and Oscar winning composer Hans Zimmer’s musical score adds dimension and compliments a film that is short on dialogue.  His score incorporates a Shepard tone, a sound which creates an auditory illusion of a tone that continually ascends or descends in pitch. 

The sound editing was extraordinary and realistic.  I felt like I was in the cockpit of the Spitfire as I listened to the plane rumble and shake.  It sounded like the gunfire was all around us.

Mark Rylance’s performance as Mr. Dawson is compelling as he pilots a boat from England along with his son Peter and their friend George.  Rylance is calm in the midst of turmoil.   In a film with little dialogue, his words are powerful. I also thought

You can practically see it from here. What?  Home.

Dunkirk is a gripping historic drama by one of the best filmmakers of our generation.  I would be shocked if it does not receive Academy Award nominations for sound editing, sound mixing, cinematography and direction. The film is a must-see for individuals that enjoy history, war, exceptional filmmaking and Christopher Nolan.  It can be seen in 35 mm, 70 mm and IMAX. ~ A.S. MacLeod

“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”

 Winston Churchill, We shall fight on the beaches speech delivered in the House of Commons of the Parliament on June 4, 1940.

Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, a British Army private
Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, a mariner and Peter’s father
Tom Glynn-Carney as Peter, Mr. Dawson’s son
Tom Hardy as Farrier, a Royal Air Force pilot
Barry Keoghan as George
Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton, the highest ranking officer on Dunkirk
Jack Lowden as Collins, a Royal Air Force pilot
Cilian Murphy as Shivering Soldier
Harry Styles as Alex, a British Army private
Damien Bonnard as French Soldier
Aneurin Barnard as Gibson, a British Army private

About Leigh Ann Rassler