Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. United Kingdom/Netherlands/France/USA, 2017. Syncopy, Warner Bros., Dombey Street Productions, Kaap Holland Film, Canal+, Cine+, RatPac-Dune Entertainment. Screenplay by Christopher Nolan. Cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema. Produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas. Music by Hans Zimmer. Production Design by Nathan Crowley. Costume Design by Jeffrey Kurland. Film Editing by Lee Smith. Academy Awards 2017. Golden Globe Awards 2017.
British and French soldiers, approximately 400,000 in number, have been pushed back in battle to the French town of Dunkirk, their only possibility for evacuation the wide open sea behind them. On the beach, Fionn Whitehead seeks escape onto one of the few boats carrying away not nearly enough soldiers to the destroyers that wait out in the open sea, determined to get home in one piece. On the sea, Mark Rylance and his son are among the many private English citizens who have heard the call on the radio and have taken their non-military vessels across the channel to help take soldiers off the beach, while in the air Tom Hardy patrols the skies to shoot down enemy planes that come to harm his men below. Told with a shockingly spare narrative style that offers no back stories to its individuals, Christopher Nolan’s superb war epic is his leanest, strongest film yet, and possibly the most powerfully intense look at a World War II battle since Overlord. The heroism that reaches cult-of-personality levels of obsession in many war movies is replaced with compositions that allow the vastness of the land, the sea or the sky to minimize the human beings at their centre; on the soundtrack is Hans Zimmers’ perpetual triggering of dread to keep tensions high throughout. Instead of dampening the film’s possible emotional impact, this emphasis on a collective mindset, in itself a tribute to the British spirit during that war, actually provokes an even deeper response: don’t be surprised if the appearance of civilian pleasure boats and yachts in the harbour who have come to save their servicemen provokes a response similar to the woman sitting next to Gemma Arterton at the screening of the fictional Dunkirk film in Their Finest: “It’s our film”.