It’s May 1940, Winston Churchill has become Prime Minister and the Allied forces are trapped in France as the country begins to fall into German hands via the Blitzkrieg. By the end of May, the Allied forces have retreated to Dunkirk as the blitz crushes through their forces and through Western Europe and the only way out is to evacuate France and let her fall to the hands of the Germans.
This operation came to be known as Operation Dynamo or the Evacuation of Dunkirk and has become one of the most inspirational and defining moments of the Second World War, it was the evacuation of British, Canadian, and French troops who were cut off and surrounded by the German forces that included the Luftwaffe during the Battle of France that ultimately led to the occupation of the country until D-Day in 1944. The Battle for France began on May 10th, 1940 and a series of BFE counter-attacks including the Action at Arras failed to sever and break the German spearhead which ultimately reached the coast and separated the British at Armentieres from the rest of the Allied forces. After reaching Dunkirk, the German war machine swung along the French coast and surrounded the British and French forces meanwhile threatening to capture the coastal ports.
In the end, despite the Allies gloomy outlook of the situation with England discussing a surrender to Nazi Germany, more than 330,000 Allied soldiers were rescued. The Battle for and the Evacuation of Dunkirk has been called “The Miracle of Dunkirk.” and has become one of the defining moments of the Second World War. Without Dunkirk, I believe that the war would’ve gone a totally different route with the Germans winning the war. In many ways, 1940 was Britain’s finest hour.
Operation Dynamo and the evacuation of Dunkirk is the subject of Christopher Nolan’s new massive epic. Nolan has for all intents and purposes conjured the British response to Saving Private Ryan. If you can imagine Saving Private Ryan’s iconic D-Day scene stretched out to to a 2-hour movie, this is what that would look like. Dunkirk is a towering achievement, not just the incredible storytelling that Nolan is known for, but also the way film-making is supposed to be.
Like Quentin Tarantino and others, Nolan is a throwback and cinema purist. Dunkirk is a totally immersive experience, for two hours your senses and your nerves are taken over. The story is from three different perspectives: From the land, sea, and air and all of these elements threads together seamlessly and on the ground, the story focuses on an infantryman named Tommy who scrambles to stay alive until he and his comrades that includes Harry Styles can be rescued, he doesn’t say much and doesn’t have too. The story then focuses on the sea where a stoic captain and his teenage son alongside his son’s best friends as they motor across the English Channel to do what duty calls and rescue the trapped soldiers from the shores of France, they take on a survivor of a torpedo attack who protests going back to Dunkirk. And in the air, we’re transported to the cockpit of a Spitfire with Tom Hardy who plays a stoic RAF Pilot and dogfights the Luftwaffe and provides cover for the British infantry on the sands.
Nolan cuts between these arenas slowly, but then faster and faster, heightening the sense of great emergency and danger that Dunkirk was. The editing is a masterpiece, picking up speed and suspense is driven through the roof. We’ve come to expect the absolute best from Nolan and he brought it here again, what makes Dunkirk stand apart from movies like The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Inception, Interstellar to name a few is how the visual language of the film is heightened by what we’re hearing. A pulsing, pounding beat of the soundtrack feels like blood is rushing to your ears, the sound of a stopwatch ticking adds a sense of great tension and layered about that is Han Zimmer’s score, the score isn’t this grand thing that The Dark Knight Saga had and has gone for something more unrelenting, it’s a full body experience that sweeps you up and places you directly into what happened in Dunkirk. Dunkirk is probably the closest thing to what actually happened in 1940.
By the end of Dunkirk, what stands out isn’t the inspirational message but the heroism that these men went through at a time where the world needed to come together to defeat Fascism, and the images that accumlate in the brain. A soldier walking into the surf to his death, the sight of a German plane crashing into the Channel. This is hands down one of the greatest war films ever made, it rightfully stands along our counterpart to Dunkirk, “Saving Private Ryan.” and in many ways, Dunkirk is the British Saving Private Ryan.
This film represents one out of many reasons why I’m such a big fan of Christopher Nolan and why Nolan himself is one of the greatest film directors of the 21st century. Bravo, Mr. Nolan, you did it once again.