Code-named Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk evacuation saw 338,226 Allied troops rescued from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk after they were cut off and surrounded by the German army during the Battle of France.
Churchill deemed the situation a “colossal military disaster”, noting in his famous “we will fight them on the beaches” speech that “wars are not won by evacuations”. Nevertheless, the story of Dunkirk is one of resilience, fighting spirit and the triumph of the underdog right at the moment it seems that all is lost, victory through the slimmest of slim chances.
Dunkirk is the latest Christopher Nolan film and the new Pearl Harbor, as far as I can tell, boasting a similarly huge blockbuster cast (I mean, who wasn’t in Pearl Harbor?), although closer perhaps in tone and spirit to Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s Band of Brothers.
Told in three parts — soldiers on the beach, British pilots fighting off German bombers in the sky, and civilian boats on the water en route to Dunkirk to help with the evacuation —Dunkirk tracks the journeys of a handful of men on their way back to safety (or not, I suspect, in some cases). This is Tom Hardy’s third stint working with Nolan, this time alongside Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead, James D’Arcy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance.
It also has the potentially dubious honor of being ex-One Directioner Harry Styles’ acting debut. The former boybander turned successful solo artist apparently turned in a solid performance with a decent share of the available lines in a movie reportedly short on dialogue.
Nolan is no stranger to unique casting decisions and claims that he wasn’t aware of Styles’ fame during the process, telling Business Insider: “Ever since I cast Heath Ledger as The Joker and raised all kinds of eyebrows, I’ve recognized that this is my responsibility and I really have to spot the potential in somebody who hasn’t done a particular thing before.
“Because whether you’re taking about Harry Styles or Mark Rylance you don’t really want to cast them in a position where they are doing something they’ve already done. You want to give the audience something different. So you’re looking at their talent and how that can be used.”
Dunkirk looks fairly typical of its type, judging by the trailers – one of which is a whopping seven minutes long – but this is a Christopher Nolan film so I’d expect to be surprised. Nolan, in fact, would prefer that you see the film projected from a 70mm IMAX physical print instead of the digital files that are now standard in the majority of cinemas.
When you see a movie projected from or shot on film, there’s something more visceral about the experience, precisely because it lacks the overly perfect crispness and bright colors of high definition digital recordings. Nolan may sound like an analogue evangelist or a technophobe but he may also have a point here: life isn’t perfect – it’s more than a little rough around the edges – and war certainly isn’t.