From the opening frames of Dunkirk it is obvious that it will be special (especially immediately following the tripe that is summer blockbuster trailers). Preeminent director Christopher Nolan’s film is two hours of nearly dialogue-free waves of action that embody the bitterness and sweet spirit that exists in war.
It was already apparent that soldiers trapped on Dunkirk’s beach during WWII made for good visuals, as evidenced by one of the greatest one-take scenes ever. Nolan—who also wrote the sparse script—seems to be a history buff and his first true attempt at historical realism is a subtle success. The scope of the timeline falls in a range of 48 to 72 hours—a rarity in war pictures—but the scope of the camera is broad and its movement’s balletic. Nolan also plays with time continuity and pace, which is at first distracting but it soon becomes one of the most winning aspects of the film.
Pop star Harry Styles inclusion as the infantryman with the most lines is also distracting at first, but he becomes quite redeemable. Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branaugh also bring gravitas to righteous characters. However, it is Mark Rylance who’s steady, driven power as the countryman driving his luxury yacht across the English Channel to rescue the trapped soldiers who is most deserving of awards attention.
By the time that Churchill’s infamous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech is read aloud by one of the surviving men it becomes abundantly clear that although this particular story ends happily for some, there is so much horror still to come before there is hope again.