When discussing the topic of World War II, Dunkirk is certainly one of the more famous battles studied. As French and British troops fought to maintain control of the Western front in France the Germans consolidated their forces for an onslaught. This maneuver caused the Allied troops to be outnumbered and a necessary evacuation began. Unfortunately, the Nazi's were ahead of the allied forces and bombed the beaches of Dunkirk along with the boats being used to transport the soldiers home. The story then shifts to the heroic efforts of British civilians who took their own personal vessel into a war zone to retrieve their men and the ultimate rescue of over 300,000.
Nolan's Dunkirk focuses primarily on a few individuals from the perspectives of land, sea, and air. A young soldier, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead; Him) finds himself on the beach of Dunkirk behind tens of thousands of soldiers trying to get home. He and a young French soldier find themselves "at the right place/right time" scenario (or so they think) and it seems they will be evacuated before so many others. Meanwhile, civilian boats rush to the French shore, including Mr. Dawson (Oscar Winner Mark Rylance; Bridge of Spies) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney; Casualty). Finally, there is the view from the bombers in the air and Pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy; Mad Max: Fury Road) who takes out several enemy planes before emergency landing on the beach in France in enemy territory.
Like the visuals, the cast is stellar including Rylance, Hardy, newcomer Whitehead, Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie), Damien Bonnard (Staying Vertical), and of course, the big deal made about Harry Styles from the singing group One Direction in his acting debut. The young actors are memorable, especially with such heavy subject matter. They match their veteran counterparts though the elder actors bring a level of experience that only time can offer. Rylance and Branagh are particularly engaging and Whitehead and Styles both do a good job. I'm not particularly a fan of Hardy but I did like him in this role.
While not a typical war movie, Dunkirk had all elements of a war film. There were bombs, bullets, and blood and wounded and dying soldiers, however, there were also silences and quiet moments that made both the cast and audience introspective to some degree. Hans Zimmer's score also added an additional element to the overall feel of the movie and helped build the suspense and momentum throughout. The cinematography was exceptional with shots from above of a vast waterway and close up views of the beach, inside a ship, and the French shoreline. The film is masterful and the only time I was really confused was when there was a scene with Whitehead and Styles in a boat at night and suddenly it was daytime again. I'm not sure if one was supposed to be a flashback but it came off as disjointed and didn't fit the sequence of shots.
The movie, while not terribly long, is intense (partially aided by Zimmer's music). It's a drama that stays with the viewer long after they leave the theater and really you can ask for much more from a film.