“Dunkirk” perfectly blends intensity and majesty


Together, Christopher Nolan and longtime collaborator Composer Han Zimmer have created the perfect blend of visual intensity and musical majesty in movie making.

“Dunkirk,” is set during the middle of World War II, when British troops were desperately in need of evacuation from Dunkirk, France as Nazi forces pushed them closer and closer to the sea. The film starts powerfully from the moment it rolls and never lets the audience out of its grip until final credits roll. Nolan, who also penned the script, has created a riveting tale of bravery, determination and honor in the wake of complete futility.

No single actor stars in Dunkirk, but Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and an exceptional ensemble cast impress. Nolan manages to weave a story that overlaps and turns between time, scenes and characters without losing one touch of intensity.  Unlike other war films, Dunkirk is not about bloody battle, but rather about evacuation from it. Against all odds, unexpected heroes emerge and the British troops persevere. Bullets and bombs fly and characters die, but the focus is on the events of the one fateful day and night. For a war film, there’s no gratuitous gore.

Calling a war film beautiful seems almost inappropriate, but this one is. Every moment mesmerizes. It is perceptive and personal, and it is intimate and epic. The story is not linear and the effect increases the suspense and the strength of its story. Champions emerge and lives are lost. Its plot is primal and raw and Nolan knows how to capture his audience. Within the first few tense minutes, propaganda flyers flutter to the ground and into hands of soldiers like soft snowflakes predicting a blizzard. “We surround you,” the leaflets announce – ominous arrows pointing to the tiny beach at Dunkirk. A single soldier runs through the streets exiting onto the sand riddled with wounded and exhausted men.  From there the film continues at a powerful and passionate pace.

While based on true events, the characters offered up by Nolan are fictitious. There were 400,000 men stranded in Dunkirk and the Royal Navy resorted to using civilian boats to rescue soldiers – traveling nearly 40 nautical miles (two hours) from England to France across the English channel. The British Army, Navy and the Air Force all went to the aid of these men, but so did noncombatants. Historically, more than 350,000 were rescued thanks to military and civilian efforts while pilots in spitfire fighter planes protected them from German planes off shore.

Exploding bombs, quickly sinking ships, edgy spitfire fights and fiery waters will engross action-thriller fans, but Nolan dips deeper, subtly engaging and igniting tense emotions. Relentlessly, Nolan blasts his audience with bullets, explosives and other brutalities of battle all the while pulling at visceral emotions. It is almost as if from the first moment we take a breath, and don’t let it out until the finale. Sequences are both nerve-wracking and poignant. There’s a paradox between the magnificence and beauty of the film and brutality of the event it depicts. The men on Dunkirk beach are basically fish in a barrel.

Han Zimmer deserves special notice in “Dunkirk.” His score adds to the film in a way that no star could. It lives, weaving like a raging and waning river through Nolan’s telling of a terrifying and troubling time in history.

Together, Nolan and Zimmer create a passionate fluidity that resonates hours after watching its 105 spectacular minutes. Dunkirk deserves an A. It is one of the best pictures of the year so far.