Movie Review: Dunkirk

By Felix Quinonez

August 17, 2017

A British national treasure.

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With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan proves once again that he’s one of the most ambitious directors working today. Dunkirk is a perfectly crafted, often harrowing, visually stunning powerhouse of a film. It is both emotional and thrilling.

It depicts the events that occurred on the beaches of Northern France, on May 1940. Four hundred thousand British and Allied Troops were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk waiting for the German forces to descend on them. The waters were too shallow for warships to reach the shores. Instead, an army of civilian ships brought them home. And Dunkirk tells this story in a way that only a director at the top of his game could.

Being a Christopher Nolan movie, it’s not surprising that an unconventional method is employed to tell the story. The movie is divided into three distinct but connected narratives. They take place on land, sea and air. The land section takes place over one week, the sea part covers one day, and the air section happens in the span of one hour. The three parts interweave to gradually reveal the whole picture.

But even in a movie full of bold decisions, the choice to essentially have no main character stands out. The movie’s scope is intentionally narrow, focusing on a small group of men. But through their experience the movie tells a larger story about the war and survival.


And dialogue is employed sparingly, sprinkled throughout the movie. Dunkirk instead relies more on jarring sound effects that at times shock the viewer in a way that mirrors the confusion the soldiers experience. It’s an unnerving technique that leaves you squirming in your seat.

The movie grabs you from its opening scene when we meet Tommy, (Fionn Whitehead) a young British private, in a brief moment of quiet. He stands transfixed as German propaganda leaflets fall from the sky and set the eerie tone. But it also underlines the situation that these allied soldiers find themselves in. They are trapped from all sides with German forces closing in.

But the quiet doesn’t last very long and he finds himself among the other soldiers trying to evade fire from unseen German forces. Unfortunately he is the only one who makes it to the beach. There he joins other British and Allied Troops who are waiting to be evacuated.

Soon after that, he meets another young soldier and helps him bury a friend. It’s a stunningly shot scene that is almost entirely wordless. Along with everyone else, they embark on a seemingly hopeless quest to get off Dunkirk. Every time they think they have found deliverance, their hopes are snatched away.

Because the waters are too shallow, the Royal Navy commandeered private boats to help with the evacuation. But instead of waiting for the Navy to take his boat, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son, Peter, (Tom Glynn-Carney) go to Dunkirk on their own accord. And Peter’s friend George (Barry Keoghan) tags along, with the hopes of doing something important in his life.

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