Dunkirk Review- An Intense Ride from Start to Finish

Posted July 21, 2017 by Thomas James Juretus in Movies

Directed and written by: Christopher Nolan

Release date: July 21, 2017

Cast: Mark Rylance, Barry Keoghan, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Brannagh, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles

War movies have been some of the best films to deliver intense, visceral experiences that also resonate on an emotional level. Films like Platoon, Apocalypse Now, and The Thin Red Line have all done this successfully. And now to this esteemed list we can add Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. The movie deals with the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk, France, in 1940, over a year before the United States fully entered World War Two. The troops were surrounded by German forces, and had they been wiped out or captured the tide of the war would certainly have been turned for the worse. What Nolan delivers in his film is an intense and emotional experience unlike most war movies out there. The story is conveyed through sparse dialogue and some great cinematography that envelopes the audience. The intensity just doesn’t let up from start to finish, making this that genuine edge of your seat experience that you go to theaters for.

Nolan divides his film into three separate timelines that intersect throughout the movie’s 106 minute runtime. The first timeline follows the soldiers on the beach, trying to escape on boats across the English Channel to get back home. This group featured Harry Styles (in his feature film debut) character of Alex, as well as Kenneth Brannagh (Macbeth) as Commander Bolton. Alex works on getting home at any cost, even if he has to weasel his way aboard a ship, while Commander Bolton does his best to ensure an orderly evacuation amidst the German attacks. The second timeline features a pleasure yacht owner named Dawson (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies). Dawson’s boat is among those being requisitioned by the British Navy to aid in rescuing the trapped soldiers at Dunkirk. He heads out with his son and a lad named George, and along the way they pick up a shell shocked soldier played by Cillian Murphy (Free Fire). The final timeline tracks a pair of fighter pilots, one of which is named Farrier (Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road), as they try to prevent German planes from sinking the ships evacuating the soldiers.

The cast works together as one big ensemble, with no one individual standing out yet all working together to create a fantastic whole. Dialogue is sparse, so there are no big rousing speeches or big lines. It’s a credit to Nolan’s superb direction and writing that conveys the story well even without a lot of talking. The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar, Let the Right One In) is top notch, highlighting the deadly immediacy of combat without being overly graphic, as well as delivering the raw emotion of frightened soldiers wanting to get out with their lives. But what ties it all together is Hans Zimmer’s spectacular score, which often ratchets the tension up to 11. The music maintains an intensity throughout, and in spots, offers some rousing emotional scenes. Since this is based on a historical event, we know how things turn out, and yet the film manages a level of suspense that usually accompanies those movies with twists that you don’t see coming.

The movie works well mixing both quiet moments as well as bombastic attacks. It opens quietly, with a group of soldiers making their way through the town of Dunkirk, when gunfire suddenly punctuates the silence. Other moments mix calm and chaos- soldiers on a ship enjoying toast with jam and some tea only to have to fight to survive when a torpedo strikes the hull, or a group of soldiers hiding within a beached ship waiting for the tide to rise to take it out to sea, only to have the ship becoming target practice for German soldiers. The sound editing is very well handled, highlighting everything to make you feel as if you’re there. I saw the film in a regular theater and was blown away, seeing it in IMAX as Nolan intended (he shot most of the film that way) would be the way to go if you have an IMAX theater near you.

In all, Dunkirk is an incredible, intense, and emotional experience that conveys the harrowing story of the soldiers trapped by German forces without a great deal of dialogue. The ensemble cast delivers as a cohesive whole, with everyone giving a great performance without having one individual override the others. Hoytema’s cinematography delivers the immediacy of war without delving into bloody imagery, capturing calm moments as well as the chaotic ones. But it’s Hans Zimmer’s score that’s just the icing on the cake, maintaining a level of tension that works well with the movie’s shorter runtime. This movie delivers that edge of your seat experience that absolutely should be enjoyed in a theater, and for those with an IMAX screen close by, that would be the optimal way to view the film. Dunkirk delivers in every way, and deserves to stand next to those great war movies like Apocalypse Now or Saving Private Ryan. This is not only one of the best war movies of all time, it’s also one of the best movies you’ll see this year. Don’t miss this.


Final Score

10.0 /10


  • Intense from start to finish
  • Fantastic musical score
  • Great cinematography
  • Terrific ensemble performance
  • Conveys story well even with sparse dialogue


  • None

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus