is One of the Year’s
By Mikhail Lecaros
Christopher Nolan’s (Memento) Dunkirk surprised the moviegoing world last week by taking the top spot at the US box office. As the first legitimate contender for next year’s awards season, Dunkirk is light years away in story and presentation from its would-be competitors (The Emoji Movie, anyone?).
Buzz has been largely positive, with many saying that Dunkirk is the best film Nolan has ever done.
Here’s our take:
Chris Nolan is Back
Given his success helming the Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar, director Christopher Nolan is no stranger to balancing blockbuster budgets with non-traditional narrative structures. With Dunkirk, he breaks it down into three timelines that encompass a week, a few days, and a couple of hours, respectively. The three narratives converge for the final act in a manner that rewards the viewer’s attention without becoming confusing or pandering.
It’s a True Story
Depending on which side you’re on, the 1940 British pull out from France is rarely considered a high point of the Second World War. Forced to retreat from the Nazi invasion of France, 400,000 British troops were left stranded with no way to get back to England. With German planes in the air, mines in the sea, and submarines beneath it, the British government was unwilling to risk losing the royal Navy to extract the men.
Left with no recourse, the Royal Navy called on anyone with a seaworthy vessel to join what would become largest rescue mission in military history.
You are in the Middle of the Action
Where Saving Private Ryan (1998) opened by placing viewers squarely in the thick of things (during the Allied Invasion of Normandy) before shifting gears to depict a traditional narrative, Dunkirk never makes the change; all throughout, Nolan sustains the tension, uncertainty, and outright fear of being in the middle of a warzone.
Take, for instance, a sequence set below decks on a fully-loaded ship on the open sea that takes a torpedo in the middle of the night. For the viewer, the knowledge that all of this really happened (for the most part) only makes the experience all the more terrifying.
The Cast is Brilliant
Sir Kenneth Branagh plays Commander Bolton, the pier officer in charge of getting the troops safely aboard whatever ships are coming to rescue them. In addition to being a composite of real-life officers, Bolton’s decisiveness and dignity in the face of adversity make him the film’s physical representation of idealized English military tradition. Despite the fact that he only seems to have been included for gravitas and staring off into the distance in concern, believe us when we say that Branagh delivers a master thespian’s showcase of concerned horizon staring.
Branagh is arguably the biggest name in a stellar cast of acting heavyweights that includes Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Tom Hardy (Bronson), Cilllian Murphy (28 Days Later), and Nolan mainstay Michael Caine (The Prestige) in a voice cameo. The point of view character here is a young soldier, Tommy, played by newcomer Fionn Whitehead, in his feature film debut.
But there’s one actor that has surprised pretty much everyone who’s seen the film…