(director/writer: Christopher Nolan; cinematographer: Hoyte van Hoytema; editor: Lee Smith; music: Hans Zimmer; cast: Tom Hardy (Farrier), Kenneth Branagh (Commander Boltan), Mark Rylance (Mr. Dawson), Tom Glynn-Carney (Peter), Cillian Murphy (Shivering soldier), Jack Lowden (Collins), Fionn Whitehead (Tommy), Harry Styles (Alex), Aneurin Barnard (Gibson), James D’Arcy (Colonel Winnant), Barry Keoghan (George); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan; Warner Bros.; 2017

“Allows us to feel as much as possible how the soldiers must have felt during that trying evacuation, where death was all-around them at the beach.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The first factual historical movie by the British born writer-director Christopher Nolan (“Quay”/”The Dark Knight”) is the definitive film on Dunkirk. It’s a riveting World War II action film, with many intimate moments, set in May of 1940, with minimal dialogue. Without cliches it tells in a no-nonsense tableaux way about a damning historical allied defeat and the rescue of some 300,000 Brits evacuating at the small French town of Dunkirk, so that they can survive an imminent defeat to fight the Germans another day. The British wait like sitting ducks on the beach to be evacuated to the nearby English Channel but the large destroyers are easy targets for the Germans in the shallow water, so only privately owned small boats manned by civilians are used to transport the troops. It would take a miracle for the rescue to come to fruition, and a miracle is what takes place on the battle field and on the screen.

Nolan allows us to feel as much as possible how the soldiers must have felt during that trying evacuation, where death was all-around them at the beach. Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), the young Brit recruit, is the universal soldier who we get to see through his eyes how the Brits saw the battle. He hooks up with two other scared soldiers Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (Harry Styles, pop star), who get to the pier called “The Mole” to see if they can board a ship home. On the pier, supervising the operation are the stalwart naval Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and the anxious army Col. Winnant (James D’Arcy). In the air, British Spitfire fighter planes provide cover on the beach by shooting down attacking Luftwaffe bombers in dog fights, whose pilots we never see. The great actor Tom Hardy has a small role as one of the Spitfire pilots, always masked, whose aerial footage sequences are simply amazing. While on the sea, we follow the courageous civilian Dawson (Oscar winner Mark Rylance), maneuvering his own yacht across the Channel, with the help of his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and a local Brit kid George (Barry Keoghan). They are joined at sea by a shivering soldier (Cillian Murphy) whose ship has been torpedoed and whose eyes can only see the horrors of war. The ensemble cast is terrific. The visuals are outstanding.

The theme is a good example of depicting mass heroism under the strains of war. It reminds us that soldiers and civilians working together to win the war, with trusted leaders, is what the Brits had back then–in the period before America entered the war. As the film closes, we listen to how in defeat Churchill rallies his country and things remain upbeat despite the military disaster. But the film is not perfect, as it has no great emotional pull to go along with the good episodic storytelling and its brilliant technical effects, and that keeps the viewers from feeling too many tugs at their heart.

REVIEWED ON 7/21/2017 GRADE: A-  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/