Published Jul 20, 2017Until now, few war dramas had come close to beating Steven Spielberg's smash Saving Private Ryan in terms of delivering visceral action straight from the battlefield. But after years of toying with sci-fi movies and superhero franchises, Christopher Nolan has come to take over the throne with Dunkirk, a bold, beautifully shot WWII epic that holds back on the guts and glory, opting instead to give viewers a feeling that's far more palpable: fear — of being left behind, of never making it home and of never finishing the job.
To tell the story (his first without brother Jonathan since 2010's Inception), Nolan splits the film up into three storylines: land, sea and air. On land, he tells the story of Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard), a pair of young soldiers from different backgrounds who meet on the beach during the evacuation and wordlessly discover a joint will to survive.
On the sea side of things, it's Mr. Dawson (recent Academy Award-winner Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his buddy George (Barry Keoghan), an unlikely trio of sailors who risk their lives crossing the channel to save some soldiers in the hopes of making up for whatever they've lost, or are lacking, in their lives back home.
Finally, there's up in the air, as Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) battle enemy troops over the seas in a series of swooping and stunning scenes that will leave you gasping for air.
Like all great Nolan movies not about Batman, the timeline here is hard to keep track of, with each of the three storylines starting out at different points through the evacuation, only to converge and diverge along the way. Despite this, though, Nolan manages to construct a cohesive story in which all characters are given equal time to shine. And for a movie filled with everyone from Kenneth Branagh (who plays a higher-up tasked with executing the evacuation) to Cillian Murphy (a shell-shocked commander forced back into the throes of battle), there are still a few surprising standouts in the acting department: singer Harry Styles delivers a strong performance, despite never having seriously acted before, as a soldier forced to make a tough decision aboard a sinking ship.
Then there's Hardy. Nolan has already seen what he can do with half his face covered in The Dark Knight Rises. Here, the 39-year-old actor borrows the best bits from Bane and his role as the titular character in Steven Knight's Locke, barely speaking a line yet expressing everything that needs to be said with his eyes, while manning a machine that always seems seconds from falling out of the sky.
Despite a sizeable cast (and a crew of over 6,000 extras), Dunkirk is Nolan's leanest film in years (it's his shortest next to debut Following), delivering clear emotion and a concise story about the horrors of war without all the bloody bits. Expect it to win big at the box office — and next awards season.