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With: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense war experience and some language
Running Time: 106
Date: 07/21/2017

Dunkirk (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Reach the Beach

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Christopher Nolan's first non-fantasy movie is bold, visceral, and powerful, with many moving sequences, even though its time-bending storytelling and overuse of music may be initially frustrating.

In Dunkirk, it's 1940, and Allied soldiers are surrounded and forced onto the beach at Dunkirk. Several English soldiers await some kind of transport back to England. At one point, they discover an abandoned, beached boat and hide inside to await high tide. Meanwhile, private English citizens that own boats have volunteered to cross the channel and pick up as many soldiers as they can carry, and Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) is one of them.

Along with two boys, they rescue a downed fighter pilot (Cillian Murphy). But tragedy awaits. Then, another fighter pilot (Tom Hardy) crosses the channel, careful to conserve his fuel, when an enemy plane attacks. Back at the beach, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) waits on the dock for help to arrive.

As with some of Nolan's other movies (especially his great Memento) Dunkirk messes with time. The three sections of the story are told at different rates; the beach sequences take place over one week, the boat sequence takes one day, and the plane sequences take one hour. Unlike Memento however, this technique lacks clarity, mainly because Nolan doesn't visually distinguish between many of the aircrafts or ships, nor does he distinguish between the young, dark-haired English soldiers.

The movie wants us to follow two of soldiers in particular, and it becomes difficult to tell which ones they are, especially as they become covered in dirt and grime. Then, the characters' accents are extremely thick, and the sound mixing, plus Hans Zimmer's heavy, droning score, often drowns out the dialogue.

All this can be irritating, although possibly cleared up by subsequent viewings (or subtitles). Plus, it seems that Nolan is deliberately trying to strip his story of characters and dialogue, perhaps to find its essence. It doesn't always work, but Dunkirk is such an immediate, horrors-of-war experience, throwing the viewer so vividly into the picture, that it's difficult to dismiss.

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