From 26th May to 4th June 1940, in the French coastal town of Dunkerque, a little over 300,000 troops – mostly British, some French and Belgian – were reined in onto the town’s beach by a sustained German fire – both artillery and aerial.
Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young petrified British soldier, tries every means possible to get back to the safety of England’s shores, barely 40km away. And since the shallow waters can afford only boats, a yacht – one of 900 such boats – navigated by civilian Mark Dawson (Academy award-winning actor Mark Rylance), soon makes its way to rescue the stranded. And up above in the sunny skies is one more deliverer – Farrier (Tom Hardy), who’s piloting a Spitfire and engaged in battle with the Nazis’ Luftwaffe bombers.
Director Nolan (‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Interstellar’, ‘Inception’) has managed to make a powerful war film, minus the accoutrements associated with films of this genre. For instance, the enemy can be neither seen nor heard: only their actions are… no war committee to flesh out a strategy and no sermons on the morality of a war. Also, none of the actors – protagonists all – has either a narrative or personality issues – this works to the advantage of the taut run-time of just over a hundred minutes. But at that run-time, there’s no time for empathy for the characters, which may perhaps work towards the film’s downside.
Nolan is able to extract more than decent performances, but none outstanding. Tom Hardy’s face is shrouded in a mask, letting the viewer anticipate his moves in the cockpit only through his expressive eyes. And the praise of the film ought to be shared as much by the director as also by the composer Hans Zimmer (‘The Lion King’, ‘Gladiator’, ‘Days of Thunder’), who – in his sixth collaboration with Nolan – has created a spellbinding score, especially with the clock ticking in the background.