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July 26, 2017

Dunkirk (2017) --- "Even Impossible Odds Can Have Extraordinary Outcomes."

Plot Summary
In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated. (1)

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Hello, Movie Buffs! 
     Director Christopher Nolan has reached the pinnacle of on-screen spectacle with the visual stunning film that is Dunkirk (2017). The cinematography (Hoyte Van Hoytema, director of photography) is masterful and while there is a growing trend of action films relying on CGI, here Nolan kick that trend as far as possible and instead the feats of practical effects are breathtaking: there were nearly 6,000 extras cast, authentic WWII vehicles used, and the beach of Dunkirk was  used as the actual shooting location. There have been a lot of opinions on Nolan’s usage of IMAX film cameras but I can only say that is ever enriched this film. The cinematography was breathtaking and every frame looked terrific. There is no question that Dunkirk will be compared to other WWII classics like Saving Private Ryan (1998) and while both films deliver great performances that are where the similarities end. While Saving Private Ryan was engrossing as an emotional narrative due to the depth of its characters and their mission, Dunkirk is more about its subject matter and spectacle. There is no actual leading character(s) in this film but I will explain why it wasn’t needed later on.

     Although the cinematography is breathtaking, it is not the best aspect of the film, instead, that would be the music score and sound editing. Much like with the recent film War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), Dunkirk plays without much dialogue and instead leans heavily the score and sound design in most scenes. It is clear that Hans Zimmer (Interstellar, Pirates of the Caribbean, Hidden Figures) delivers another incredible score that added an ominous feel to film just before something happened. Sometimes there is only one note that plays a delicate duet with the sound of hearts beating and clocks ticking, while other times it is a rushing orchestra that brings you to the edge of your seat and makes you hold your breath. The soundtrack weaves through the three narratives seamlessly and builds an extraordinary sense of tension that will leave you awe. The sound design is wonderfully done that you forget you are even watching a movie. The rumbling of plains in the distance, the whizzing and clank of gunfire, and the booming roar of explosions all contribute to a complete immersion into the Battle of Dunkirk.  
     The only real issue that I have noticed in the film is that the characters lack depth and sometimes it deters from some wanted emotion. In most war films it is expected that you follow a set of main characters that create an emotional perspective that links with the audience from start to finish. However, in my opinion, Dunkirk tells the story of the Dunkirk Evacuation rather than follows the emotional journey of all the characters like in Saving Private Ryan. Nolan instead focused more on the filmmaking techniques to tell the story rather than the dialogue, which is why some people may automatically dub this film as boring but I would not be too quick to judge. This is a film about an event in history were the only thing that mattered was survival and Nolan showed that perfectly. So instead of focusing on a single character or a small group of characters, the real protagonist of the film is from the perspective of three different locations. One thing you must understand is that these three perspectives are told through different timelines of the Dunkirk Evacuation, and yet they are all linked together. First, there is the Mole or the ground (also known as the main dock) which has a timeline of 1 Week. Second, is the Sea which is has a timeline of 1 Day and is mostly shown through the narrative of a civilian vessel captain, Mr. Dawson (Mark RylanceBridge of Spies). And thirdly, there is the Air which has a timeline of 1 Hour and is mostly seen with fighter pilots, Farrier (Tom HardyLegend) and Collins (Jack LowdenDenial). The way the three narratives unfold and how they are tied together makes this film a masterpiece as it challenges the very foundation of the story’s narrative and chronological order of the film itself. However, there were a few moments within each narrative when some character depth would have been useful. One scene where Mr. Dawson explaining to Cillian Murphy’s (In Time) character, shivering soldier, why they were going to Dunkirk could have been heartbreaking and touching. Nevertheless, Dunkirk has achieved what it set out to do and I believe that it could quite possibly rack up a number of technical and sound/music nominations.  

     Overall, Dunkirk (2017) is a wonderful film and a technical masterpiece. The sound editing and music score will leave you breathless and thrilled, while the narrative of the film achieved Nolan’s goal in focusing on evacuation efforts rather than the characters themselves. If you were expecting a film like Saving Private Ryan, with an emotional narrative due to character depth and a singular engrossing mission then you will be sadly mistaken. There is no doubt that some may find this film boring but no one can watch this film without feeling some sense of admiration or pride for the story itself. I do not believe that the three narratives take away from the intensity of the events depicted and even though the characters are not exactly the main focus point neither should they be overlooked. Again, Dunkirk has achieved what it set out to do and delivered on its promises in the trailer.

"When they could not get home... Home came for them."
- from the trailer.

Final Vote
Worth Seeing:  5 of 5 star
Worth Buying:  5 of 5 stars

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Movies Similar 
The Book Thief (2013)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Enemy at the Gates (2001)
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Fury (2014)
The Great Raid (2005)
Hacksaw Ridge (2017)
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Memphis Belle (1990)
Pearl Harbor (2001)
Red Tails (2012)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Unbroken (2014)
Valkyrie (2008)
The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017) 

Cast & Crew
Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Writing Credits Christopher Nolan.
Produced by 
John Bernard             ...    line producer: France
Erwin Godschalk        ...    line producer: Netherlands
Jake Myers                 ...    executive producer
Christopher Nolan     ...    producer (produced by) (p.g.a.)
Maarten Swart           ...    associate producer: Netherlands
Emma Thomas           ...    producer (produced by) (p.g.a.)
Andy Thompson        ...    associate producer
Music by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema
Film Editing by Lee Smith
Casting By John Papsidera and Toby Whale
Production Design by Nathan Crowley
Set Decoration by Emmanuel Delis and Gary Fettis
Costume Design by Jeffrey Kurland

Fionn Whitehead                                                   ...        Tommy
Aneurin Barnard                                                    ...        Gibson
James Bloor                                                              ...        Irate Soldier
Billy Howle                                                                ...        Petty Officer
Harry Styles                                                              ...        Alex
Lee Armstrong                                                         ...        Grenadier
Barry Keoghan                                                         ...        George
Tom Glynn-Carney                                                ...        Peter
Mark Rylance                                                           ...        Mr. Dawson
Cillian Murphy                                                        ...        Shivering Soldier
Tom Hardy                                                                ...        Farrier
Jack Lowden                                                            ...        Collins
Will Attenborough                                                ...        Second Lieutenant
Kenneth Branagh                                                   ...        Commander Bolton
Tom Nolan                                                                ...        Lieutenant
James D'Arcy                                                            ...        Colonel Winnant
Matthew Marsh                                                       ...        Rear Admiral
John Nolan                                                               ...        Blind Man
Damien Bonnard                                                    ...        French Soldier
Jochum ten Haaf                                                    ...        Dutch Seaman
Harry Collett                                                            ...        Boy
Eric Richard                                                             ...        Man at Railway Window

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