DUNKIRK, war drama, rated PG-13, Jean Cocteau Cinema; Regal Stadium 14; Violet Crown; Dream Catcher; 3.5 chiles
Although the traumatically tense new film from writer-director Christopher Nolan, based on events in the spring of 1940, eschews the traditional war-movie scenes of generals analyzing maps, there is a map. It comes in the form of flyers dropped by the Germans on the predominantly British and French troops stuck in the port city of Dunkirk, in northern France. The map shows the city with arrows converging from all sides. The center is labeled simply: YOU.
A young soldier named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and his companions discover these leaflets as they make their way through the city streets to the shore, where they find Allied soldiers en masse, awaiting evacuation. British warships are stationed nearby, but they cannot get close enough to the beach for the soldiers to board.
And then the soldiers get bombed, and not in the fun way. The Germans have decided to hold back the tanks and let the Luftwaffe finish off the Allies. Meanwhile, a call has gone out in Britain for help from commercial and private sailors. The British need to retrieve their army in anticipation of the battle for the homeland. Making the trip across the English Channel are hundreds of fishing boats, yachts, ferries, steamers — practically anything that will float. Among these is a small boat captained by one Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) with his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and a local boy who tagged along (Barry Keoghan).
The third wing of the cast, so to speak, consists of pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins ( Jack Lowden). They patrol the coast in Spitfires, defending ships and soldiers from the machine guns and bombs. While the role largely consists of grunting, goosing the throttle, and tapping on a fuel gauge, Hardy turns in an admirable performance, as usual.
The director seamlessly escalates the tension and twists the strands of these stories together. There is a bit of narration in the form of a commander played by Kenneth Branagh, who spends most of the movie standing at the end of a pier and commenting for the benefit of the audience. His occasional wisecracks break up the somber tone, but they also yank the viewer out of what is otherwise complete immersion.
For once, Nolan doesn’t fashion a psychological labyrinth for his characters to navigate, as he has done in other movies (notably Memento and
Inception). Dunkirk is a more immediate, visceral experience — there’s no time to think. Three-quarters of the movie is pure seat-gripping adrenaline rush. There is little blood and no Saving Private Ryan-style scenes of men ripped in half, but it is catastrophically loud and terrifying, and children should be left at home because of this. Think of their eardrums.
Over there: A scene from Dunkirk