Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense battle scenes and some profanity
Running time: 106 minutes
In English, French and German with subtitles
Production Studio: Syncopy
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures
When Hitler ordered an all-out assault on the Western Front in the spring of 1940, the vaunted Maginot Line proved to be no match for the pulverizing German blitzkrieg. The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France all fell in a matter of weeks, and the rapid collapse proved particularly problematic for the Allied forces.
By May 26, about 400,000 British, French, Polish, Belgian and Dutch troops had been driven to the sea at Dunkirk, a port located along the northern coast of France. The retreating soldiers soon found themselves stranded on the beach, since there weren’t enough military naval vessels to mount a rapid, full-scale evacuation.
The logistical nightmare left most of the beleaguered, battle weary men in dire need of a miracle, as they’d basically become sitting ducks for Nazi artillery.and Luftwaffe bombs. At 7 pm that evening, the desperate British prime minister decided to issue an urgent appeal to private boat owners to join the rescue effort.
By dawn, over 800 hundred vessels had been pressed into service. The improbable flotilla included everything from speed boats and yachts to tugboats and fishing trawlers to ferries and ocean liners.
For the next nine days, they negotiated their way back and forth across the U-Boat infested waters of the English Channel. And although about a third of the ships would be sunk by the enemy, the altruistic patriots managed to save 338,226 troops.
Leave it to Winston Churchill to put a positive spin on such a devastating military defeat, which claimed the lives of 68,000 British soldiers and left the country in fear of an imminent invasion. On June 4, he took to the floor of the House of Commons to deliver a rousing speech assuring the alarmed citizenry that there was no doubt that Great Britain would ultimately prevail.
“Whatever the cost may be,” he said in a stirring summation, “We shall fight on the beaches… We shall fight on the landing grounds… We shall fight in the fields and in the streets… We shall fight in the hills…” concluding, “We shall never surrender!”
All of the above has been chronicled in unique fashion in “Dunkirk,” a visually-captivating, World War II epic directed by Christopher Nolan. Nolan, the best British director besides Alfred Hitchcock never to win an Oscar, has made a string of memorable movies that includes “Memento,” “Inception,” “Interstellar” and the “Batman trilogy.”
Here, he is found a novel way to recreate the historic evacuation. Instead of having the docudrama revolve around a single protagonist or a single unit, he has deftly interwoven a half-dozen or so discrete storylines highlighting the different perspectives of several unsung heroes. Whether on land, by sea or in the air, many among this patriotic band of brothers survive, but some do make the ultimate sacrifice in the valiant stand against the unspeakable evil spreading across Europe.
Shot in 70mm, “Dunkirk” is an instant classic worth the extra investment to catch on an IMAX screen. An inspirational tribute to Britain’s Greatest Generation that just might be Chris Nolan’s best picture yet!