Arts & Leisure

“Dunkirk”: epic film on an epic event

“DUNKIRK” is the story of the evacuation of over 300,000 British troops in the dark days of 1940.

By Jim Tortolano

The evacuation of over 300,000 British and French troops from the beaches in Dunkirk in 1940 in the early stages of World War II doesn’t make much of an emotional impact in the United States, but maybe it will to those who see the new Christopher Nolan film, “Dunkirk.”

Best known here as the man behind the Christian Bale series of “Batman” movies, this film chronicles a real-life event that might seem even more unlikely than a man dressed up as a flying rodent fighting crime. The against-all-odds rescue of a third-of-a-million soldiers from the clutches of the conquering Nazi German war machine is an epic true tale that deserves the focus given it by Nolan, who wrote the screenplay and directed the movie.

It’s a true ensemble film with a cast that includes Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and Fionn Whitehead. But star billing also belongs to cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, who gives us an intimate, often-jarring look at the life-and-death struggle taking place on the beach and in the water of the English Channel.

Nolan weaves three tales together, one each on land, sea and air. Brave pilots of the Royal Air Force try to hold off German fighter planes, intrepid civilian sailors cross the channel to evacuate British soldiers, and, of course, the Tommies themselves, caught in the vice of death by bullets or drowning.

This is a fine film, expertly executed, except for one important factor: sound. There’s not a lot of dialogue in this movie, and about one-fourth of it is hard to clearly discern. It’s a combination of thick English accents – peppered with Forties Brit slang that’s impenetrable for much of an American audience – and speech battling with sound effects. It feels authentic, but shouldn’t dialogue be heard?

But in the many moments when it’s clear what’s happening (and being said), this is a powerful and emotionally moving film. Nolan has created a near-masterpiece. It’s just a bit short of perfection, if you hear what I’m saying.

“Dunkirk” is rated PG-13 for war violence.

 

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