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Anthony's Film Review - Dunkirk (2017)

Christopher Nolan excels at telling a war story, just by letting the images speak for themselves...

If you've seen any of the previous major motion pictures that Christopher Nolan has worked on, you can easily see how much of a master he is at telling a compelling story. He has the ability to do so in multiple ways. He can present a plot that is complex, deep, and convoluted. He can show characters with great depth and vivid characteristics. And he can tell a story just by letting the sights and sounds do the work. Basically, if you give him a good premise to work with, he will find a way to make a great movie using at least one of those storytelling techniques he has in his bag of tricks.

Let's talk about his 2017 World War II movie, Dunkirk. You would think that this film, about 400,000 British, French, and Belgian soldiers trapped at the beach and harbor in Dunkirk, France, by the Germans, would be told through the order and connection of various events or through the actions and emotions of certain key characters. 

But believe it or not, the story here is not based primarily on plot or character. In fact, the dialogue is much less than that of typical movies. Really, the story can be summed up in one phrase, like "soldiers trapped at a coast by an enemy await passage home by boat," and there is no one character who is given more importance than any other. So that leaves the method of storytelling by imagery. 

That's what the film Dunkirk does: letting the individual events speak for themselves.

I'll give you some examples. In the beginning of the movie, there is a wounded soldier being carried on a stretcher, across the beach, down the pier, and onto an already crowded ship. This long sequence already shows the powerful determination in trying to save one man's life. Elsewhere, at sea, a ship carrying soldiers back to England is hit with a German torpedo, resulting in drowning deaths and frantic evacuations. 

And above it all, a British air force pilot takes aim at a German war plane and shoots it down, reducing the aerial threat posed to the trapped soldiers still remaining on land. That's another great thing about this movie: the story is told from three different perspectives.

War movies can be about many different things. Some are about winning and victory. Others are about horror and trauma. Dunkirk would probably be best described as a war movie about hope and survival. The drama comes not from whether an army can defeat another, but whether an army on the brink of defeat can escape and live. There are certainly strong emotions that can emanate from this kind of situation, primarily fear. Some moments make you scared of something that is about to happen. Others make you scared once things do happen.

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan's first movie about war and history, but his skill as a filmmaker still shows. He has an eye for detail and a sense of what effectively moves an audience. Though I haven't mentioned any cast member by name, everyone in this movie does a great job. Overall, this is a great example of what solid filmmaking is. The best part of it for me is that I learned something from this movie. As someone who isn't as well versed in history as a history enthusiast or historian, the Dunkirk evacuation was something I knew nothing about before. Now that I've seen this movie, I came away with a greater understanding and appreciation of what the people involved had gone through. You could say that Christopher Nolan also has the ability to educate us, not just entertain us.

Anthony's Rating: 9/10

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Anthony's Film Review - Dunkirk (2017)
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