“Dunkirk “ is not a typical war movie.
There are no brothers in arms, no flashbacks to the women left behind, no old men in situation rooms pontificating about politics. There’s no talk of Hitler or Germans or battlefields or mothers. In fact, there’s hardly any talk at all, or even any characters in the traditional sense.
But don’t be mistaken: Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is a masterpiece.
It’s a stunningly immersive survival film. Nolan puts the viewer right in the action, whether it’s on the beach with 400,000 men waiting for a rescue that may never come, on the waters of the English Channel in the little civilian ship headed into hostile waters with only an aging man and two teenagers aboard, or in the air in two lone Spitfires that are running out of fuel.
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The intoxicating images envelope you with urgency, dread and moments of breathtaking beauty as you wait with the soldiers for deliverance.
The story begins on the ground, with a soldier, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), wandering the deserted streets of Dunkirk looking for water and a place to relieve himself. Propaganda flyers float down reminding the soldiers of something they’re already well aware of — that they’re surrounded. A deafening gunshot breaks the silence, and your heart will not stop racing for some time.
Tommy heads back to the beach, where soldiers stand in long lines that stretch to the water, where no boats approach. His part is nearly silent, his motivations unknown. They are all haunted shells, stripped of meaningful weapons and military purpose. They just know they need to get off the beach at any cost.
In the air are the two Spitfire pilots, Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), shooting down the enemy. Hardly has a film ever made you feel as in the moment as this.
On the sea are three civilians, Dawson (Mark Rylance), Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and George (Barry Keoghan) who, armed only with life jackets and blankets, decide to use their small vessel and journey into war, to help rescue their stranded countrymen.
These narratives intertwine and loop back and repeat from different vantage points with stunning effectiveness. Nolan finds suspense at every angle, and ramps up the tension with the help of Hans Zimmer’s ticking score.
Nolan continues to be unparalleled in Hollywood, working on a scope that few are able to. As many filmmakers experiment with the small screen, Nolan has gone bigger and bolder with his commitment to film and IMAX. “Dunkirk” is the best film of the year, and Nolan’s finest, too.
See it big, and then see it again.
Rated PG-13 for war violence, language. 1:47. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.