Christopher Nolan’s epic ‘Dunkirk’ brings history to life

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“DUNKIRK” is the new Christopher Nolan film that stars Fionn Whitehead as Tommy and is set in WW II in France. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon - 2016 Warner Bros.

Christopher Nolan’s epic ‘Dunkirk’ brings history to life

 

By Theda Kleinhans Reichman

Entertainment Editor

 

Writer/director Christopher Nolan is best known for thrilling action films like the “Dark Knight” trilogy, but in his latest work “Dunkirk” he brings WWII heroes to life on the screen.

Christopher Nolan’s epic ‘Dunkirk’ brings history to life

 

By Theda Kleinhans Reichman

Entertainment Editor

 

Writer/director Christopher Nolan is best known for thrilling action films like the “Dark Knight” trilogy, but in his latest work “Dunkirk” he brings WWII heroes to life on the screen.

This historic rescue of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops stranded by advancing German forces on the French beach at Dunkirk took place eighteen months prior to the United States’ entry into the war.

The narrative is told in three interwoven time frames as the story unfolds on land, sea and in the air.  The land action lasted for a week, the private armada sea rescue is depicted as a day, and the air operation by three RAF Spitfires lasted only an hour. The Spitfires attacked German war planes to provide air cover for the hundreds of private British vessels, cabin cruisers, fishing boats and recreational boats of all kinds that voluntarily crossed the Channel to rescue the 400,000 allied soldiers stranded on the beach.

What could have been a total disaster was turned into a spectacular strategic and psychological triumph. Instead of allowing the annihilation or capture of thousands of troops, Royal Air Force pilots and civilian boat crews worked together to evacuate their soldiers to their British homeland where they could prepare for the inevitable battles to come. The operation was so heroic and successful that it inspired Winston Churchill’s famous “We will fight them on the beaches…,” speech.

As you watch this thrilling movie reenactment you feel as if you are also an active participant, constantly wondering who will live and who will die in this chilling race against time.  Director Nolan offers you the perspective of the soldiers on the ground, the pilots in the air, and the civilians at the helms of the private flotilla. He has created a film of grand scale but with emotional intimacy. He filmed the exciting battle scenes without the aid of computer-generated imagery, just old-fashioned special effects and stunt work.

The film begins on the mole (beach area of Dunkirk), then heads out to sea as rescue boats set sail from England to remove soldiers from the beach since the shallow water could not accommodate large ships.

The breathtaking air maneuvers at Dunkirk are captured on film by cinematographer Van Hoytema and his crew. Nolan placed a camera just behind the pilot (Tom Hardy) so you, like the pilot, are able to watch as German war planes dart in and out of view–shooting to kill.  These air sequences are spectacular on screen and are even further enhanced if viewed in the Imax format.

Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is first seen running through the small French town, dodging a barrage of German bullets as he races toward the beach.  Harry Styles (former singer with One Direction, making his film debut) is another young soldiers heading toward the beach hoping to be saved before the Germans arrive en masse. Note: Nolan filmed the entire movie on location at Dunkirk.

Mark Rylance (Best Supporting Actor in “Bridge of Spies”) commands a cabin cruiser, and along with his son and a young friend he sets sail for Dunkirk to aid in the massive rescue efforts requested by the British navy.  Enroute they save a shell-shocked survivor (Cillian Murphy) who just wants to head straight for home, not Dunkirk. Their story represents the countless skippers who participated in the successful retreat.

Kenneth Branagh portrays Navy Commander Bolton, who remains on the beach to ensure the safe evacuation of French soldiers after the English troops have safely departed. And the stirring background music is provided by Hans Zimmer.

“Dunkirk” is rated PG 13 for intense war experience and some language.  Running time 1 hour 47 minutes

Christopher Nolan’s epic ‘Dunkirk’ brings history to life