Rogue Hippo’s Review Score: 10

Wow!  This movie is incredible!  Go see Dunkirk; and, as a good friend put it, see it “on the biggest screen you can find.”  In fact, reading this review is a poor use of your time that could be better spent watching Dunkirk.  However, since you’re here, I’ll try to do this movie justice.

First, some historical background.  Dunkirk is named for the Dunkirk evacuation which took place during the early days of World War II.  Germany had stormed across France, forcing the French and British armies to retreat faster than anyone was prepared for.  They quickly found themselves with their backs to the English Channel, and surrounded by the German Army.

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Recreation of German propaganda leaflets dropped on the French and British soldiers.

With how the war had played out so far, British HQ was concerned with having enough soldiers to defend against a German invasion of the British mainland (which they felt was inevitable).  With that in mind, the British Army, Navy, Air Force, and even civilian ships, were mobilized with with the singular goal of evacuating as many soldiers as possible, before they were wiped out by the German advance.  This is the setting of Dunkirk.

Dunkirk tells the story of the evacuation from four alternating perspectives:

  • The Men on the Beach– Imagine, you’re exhausted and demoralized after weeks of retreating.  Then, finally, you reach the evacuation area, only to find more than 400,000 other stranded soldiers, desperate and exposed, doing whatever they can to stay alive and get home.
  • The Royal Air Force– These are the angels in the sky; yet, for every angel, there are thousands on the ground, and in the ocean, that need to be watched over.
  • The Royal Navy– In my opinion, they have the toughest job of them all.  The Navy is simultaneously the savior, the judge and the hunted.  They decide who goes home and who stays on the beach.  Meanwhile, they’re the biggest target for the Germans who want nothing more than to sink a vulnerable ship, overloaded with soldiers.
  • The Civilian Ships– The film focuses on one yacht, manned by it’s civilian owners, as they bravely (and perhaps naively) answer the call to aid the evacuation, and sail their un-armed and un-armored vessel into the heart of the conflict.

Dunkirk brilliantly weaves these four perspectives together.  It’s a movie on a grand scale that still manages to get personal as you gradually realize how each group is connected to each other.  It is very real in that regard; people make decisions (some big, some small), and those decisions often mean life or death for others.  That’s not a new concept in movies, but Dunkirk portrays it exceptionally well.

The camera work is outstanding.  The scenes in the air feature a few small planes (often just small, black specks) as they dog-fight over vast expanses of endless ocean.  The scenes on the beach are dark and wretched and the soldiers grow increasingly desperate for salvation.  The scenes in the naval ships are cramped and over-crowded; these vessels are not invincible hulks, they feel like tragedies waiting to happen.  Each location has a different feel to it; and you’ll quickly go from isolation of lone pilot over the ocean, to the suffocation of being locked below deck of a naval ship.

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Dunkirk is also one of the rare occasions where the trailer undersells the movie.  When I first saw the trailer, it wasn’t memorable but I figured I’d see it eventually simply because I like history movies.  If you watched the trailer above, it looks like a typical World War II movie; but it is so much more than that.  I watch a lot of World War II movies and this is easily one of the best I’ve ever seen.  I find myself wishing the trailer was better for fear that it won’t inspire people to see the movie.  The trailer is decent; the movie is excellent.

Dunkirk manages to achieve all of this with very little dialogue.  It’s not completely absent, but it’s noticably limited.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this review has more words than the actual script.  The story is told more through the scenery, and the experiences of the characters, than with dialogue.  In fact, most of the characters don’t even have a name.  There’s no time for introductions in a situation like this; but it all works very well.

As you can tell, I highly recommend this movie.  Go see Dunkirk, and see it in the theaters.  This movie is an experience, one I’m worried won’t feel the same when watched at home.  That’s why I plan on going again soon; hopefully I’ll see you there.  Hats off to Christopher Nolan, the cast, the crew, and everyone else involved with this movie.  They did an outstanding job.

Until Next Time,

Rogue Hippo