Saturday, July 22, 2017

Film Review - Dunkirk

A group of British solders are walking through the cobblestone streets of an empty town. A hose is picked up hoping for a few drops of water. A window opened at the site of an ashtray then rummaged through for a smokable cigarette butt. Then the bullets start to fly whipping through the sky piercing flesh. Soon only one is left Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) to hop a fence fire back before disappearing behind the sandbag line manned by the French protecting the path to the sea. On the beach the solders link up a half mile long 8 feet deep on the Mole waiting for evacuation but also serving as sitting ducks for the German planes circling and dive-bombing the position from above.

The narrative focuses on three sections, the above noted Mole, the sea and the air. The mole part is a desperate struggle  to get off the continent and back home made all the more aggravating by the fact that they can see home from the breakwater wall. The solders on the beach are shot at by German snipers, constantly ducking for cover on the sand and the mole, climbing on then jumping off rescue ships as they are struck from above. Even a momentary pause for nourishment eating a bread and jelly sandwich is thrown into chaos when a torpedo strikes the  rescue vessel. The Air portion is perhaps the most intellectual. Two spitfire pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Jack Lowden (Collins) engage the Messerschmitts at sea undermanned as the Germans have air superiority plus High Command have decided to save their resources for the inevitable battle for the homeland to the disappointment of the stranded rank and file on the beach.  The Sea centres on the call to local boats and pleasure craft from the homeland. Commandeered to head out with a sense of duty to get the boys back home. The Moonstone piloted by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) His son Peter (Thomas Glynn-Carney) who are joined by Peter's friend George (Barry Keoghan) who jumps on board last minute declaring that he would be useful.

Nolan as he always does did his research for this project employing historian Joshua Levine for the fine details of the 400,000 troop evacuation between  May 26-June 4 1940. The uniforms, coats, life jackets guns and distinctive helmets are all accurate for the time. The hum of the Rolls Royce engine Spitfires communication devices and analogue dials of the planes are all from the period. The script is heavy on action. The solders only speak a few brief words which comes to the fore in a pivotal scene 3/4 through the picture when the audience realizes that one of the main characters has not uttered a single word up to that point. The tension of the subject matter is naturally there but longtime Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer cranks up the score featuring an audible tick tick tick of a stopwatch in the undercurrent. The story is very British as the participants weave from one catastrophe to the next but seem to not move above a resting heart rate. In pone particularly tense moment a ditched pilot is rescued from his sinking plane as the water rushes in to drown him. His only words to his rescuers are "Good Afternoon".

The ensemble case do not set a foot wrong portraying the roles of the calm Englishmen doing their duty inside and outside of the Service. Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles and Aneurin Barnard are the prominent highlanders trying several methods to get off the beach and into a vessel that can take them to England. Nolan regular Hardy is notable as Farrier the Spitfire pilot taking calculated risks to potent the troops and boats below. Mark Rylance stands out as the compassionate father taking his youngest son across the sea with a storage room full of lifejackets to do what every they can to help with the evacuation.

Dunkirk is a significant World War Tow film. It highlights the selflessness of past generations driven
by the readiness to act without question when a nation requires your service. Nolan brings home the helplessness of the troops sitting on the Mole or on the beach waiting for hours or days to be rescued. It's a special piece of filmmaking that has to be scene on the big screen.

**** Out of 4.

Dunkirk| Christopher Nolan | U.K. /Netherlands/ France U.S.A. | 2017 | 106 Minutes.

Tags: Dunkirk, France, Evacuation, World War II, France, Spitfire, Messersmith, The Mole, Drowning, Oil, Survival.

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