There are countless movies that either take World War 2 as inspiration or as a setting. Movies like Saving Private Ryan, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Schindler’s List are great at showing the war and what it’s like to live through it. Dunkirk is one of the battles of World War 2 that I did not know of. But, when hearing it was being written and directed by Christopher Nolan, it’s one that I had to check out.
The Battle of Dunkirk would turn into an essential battle in the grand scheme of the war. Taking place from May 26 to June 4, 1940, this battle is part of the more massive Battle of France. In this pivotal fight, Germany would capture not only France but Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, too.
The Battle of Dunkirk took place in Dunkirk, France, and is primarily focused on the defense and retreat of British and other Allied forces from France to Britain.
Dunkirk’s cast features both notable actors and some that aren’t well known for their acting ability. While broken up with three story lines, it is the lesser known actors that are our main point of view in the story. We spend a lot of time at the beach with Tommy, played by Fionn Whitehead. Tommy is a British soldier that survives an ambush to make it to the beach. While there, he meets both Alex and Gibson, performed by Harry Styles and Aneurin Barnard, respectively, while trying to get off the beach. The beach evacuation is lead by James D’Arcy’s Colonel Winnant and Kenneth Branagh’s Commander Bolton.
On their way to Dunkirk to help the evacuation is Mark Rylance’s Mr. Dawson, Tom Glynn-Carney’s Peter, and Barry Keoghan’s George. They do end up picking up a shivering soldier who is never named played by Cillian Murphy. As they continue after picking up this soldier they see three Supermarine Spitfires fly overhead. One pilot we never see, but the two we do are Collins and Farrier, played by Jack Lowden and Tom Hardy, respectively; and both are shown in constant communication with each other, always looking to protect the Allies on their way home.
One of the best things that this film does is also one of the worst. It paints a picture of fear and desperation with hundreds of thousands of men standing on a beach, not knowing where to go or what to do. All they can do is wait for the boats — boats they’re not sure will even show up. The only thing they could do was wait. And hope they don’t get hit by planes as they fly over dropping bombs and raining down machine gun fire.
The sound design and score are where you feel that sense of hopelessness. The screams of the Luftwaffe hurt and the sounds of the gunshots will make your heart jump. Hans Zimmer’s score heightens these feelings. It’s his score that pulls you into the movie when there is so little dialog.
Dunkirk was a rough film for me. The cinematography and sound made it feel like I was standing on the beach with those men. The sequences with men in sinking ships filled me with so much dread from not being able to swim myself. With a PG-13 rating, Dunkirk does not show blood or gore, and has kept the used language simple. Besides the fear it instilled, the only downside for me was trying to keep the three separate timelines in order of how they happened in the story in correlation with the other ones.
With all of this said, Dunkirk is a hard watch. But I think it is a hard watch that everyone needs to see at least once. It is a story that will bother some, especially younger audiences. A well-made film with a story that needed to be told, Dunkirk hits all the notes for me of a great World War 2 film.