Just when this summer began to look like a wholly disappointing one for movie lovers, Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” swooped into the filmmaking scene, taking audiences on a jolting, emotional journey into the heart of cinematic perfection.
“Dunkirk” can easily be named this summer’s best movie, having received glowing reviews by countless film critics. The film has earned more than $300 million worldwide since its release, still dominating the box office into its fifth week in theaters.
Nolan’s latest film renders sites like Netflix and Amazon inadequate, offering an authentic, engaging experience that transcends the small screen and demands space for a much bigger one.
While there are many factors that contribute to the overall genius of Nolan’s film, it’s the humanizing and emotional depiction of one of WWII’s greatest military feats that makes it so revolutionary within its genre. The film seamlessly brings to life the civilian and military efforts that made it possible to save more than 300,000 British soldiers during the mass rescue mission at Dunkirk, which earned the name “Operation Dynamo.” “Dunkirk” is not merely a war film, but a testament to human resilience and the invisible bonds that unite people during life’s darkest hours. With a touch of care and cadence, the film proves to be an engrossing and heartfelt portrayal of mortal suffering and endurance.
It is no coincidence that Nolan’s film plays out before audiences in time to the steady ticking of a clock, which is beautifully conveyed by Hans Zimmer’s musical score. Zimmer’s brilliant addition acts as a reminder of the war that was waged against the clock, with time nearly as fierce an enemy as the menacing German military that pushed both British and French forces to the grey, windswept beaches of Dunkirk.
Nolan uses this particular element to his advantage in illustrating the various factions within the British military, separating the air, land and sea forces into different timelines and offering a unique look at a miraculous moment in history.
Nolan flaunts his directing skills in all aspects of the film, perfecting its cinematography without neglecting its cast. Each actor proves his own performance skills from beginning to end, leaving no space in between poignant scenes for weak, ineffectual performances. The film is artfully sustained by a powerful, leading performance from new-comer Fionn Whitehead (“Him”) and by strong supporting roles from Aneurin Barnard (“War and Peace,” “The White Queen”), Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies,” “Wolf Hall”) and One Direction’s Harry Styles in his first acting role.
Barnard’s character, Gibson, reveals the film’s emotional crux in one particular scene, when the sight of distant fighting tests his emotional strength. Barnard’s shaken soldier sits alone and scans the darkened horizon with fearful, searching eyes before slowly resting his head against the side of the ship. At this moment, his nightmarish fears become a reality, as he pays witness to a terrifying scene that proves to be disastrous for many of the soldiers packed together inside the ship. This scene involving Gibson brims with importance but may possibly go unnoticed in comparison to the rest of the film’s more intense sequences. In conjunction with the uncanny realism and suspense involved in the film’s air and sea fighting sequences, Barnard’s convincing bout with fear and exhaustion offers a close look at the personal struggles soldiers faced during the war.
Perhaps the film’s heaviest emotional element rests in its depiction of the civilian efforts that made Operation Dynamo a miraculous achievement. Mark Rylance’s role as caring civilian Mr. Dawson, who sets sail in his personal vessel toward Dunkirk, sets the stage for Nolan’s depiction of civilian bravery. The emotional resonance is rounded out by the addition of Mr. Dawson’s young son, Peter, played by Tom Glynn-Carney (“Casualty,” “Macbeth”), and their curious, brave companion, George, portrayed by Barry Keoghan (“Love/Hate,” “Rebellion”). All three actors provide a profound element of level-headedness that makes their journey into the throes of warfare notably convincing.
“Dunkirk” is a film that will surely stand the test of time, acknowledging the past by embracing the cinematic achievements of the present. The decision to attach IMAX cameras to the wings of working WWII Spitfires in order to capture the film’s flight scenes is groundbreaking in its use, creating a uniquely immersive experience for viewers. In terms of the film’s emotional backbone, Nolan centers his wartime narrative on the fear of imminent defeat and the overwhelming desire for peace. Hope resonates throughout the film, with men of high rank gazing toward the horizon in search of “home” before recognizing it in their fellow soldiers. Nolan’s film carries the mark of tears rather than blood, leaving an indelible impact on audiences. Undeniably, “Dunkirk” immortalizes the strength of camaraderie and hope through the eyes of history, and its overall effect is worth celebrating.