Warning: There are a few spoilers in the following article, but not incredibly drastic ones.
Last night I saw Dunkirk for the first time. Being the One Direction fan I am, the movie obviously caught my attention because of Harry Styles, a member of the band who had been cast in the movie, however, I ended up thoroughly enjoying the entirety of the movie and would recommend it to anyone who has two hours to spare.
Don’t get me wrong, Styles was incredible in his role, in my opinion, especially for an actor whose only other credit is iCarly from six or so years ago. But I need to make something clear to all the fans of Styles or like-minded thinkers: the movie is not great just because Styles is in it.
Going into the movie, I had no prior knowledge of what Dunkirk — the historical event — was about besides happening during a war in Europe. I was pleasantly surprised that I not only learned more about the event despite the severe lack of dialogue but also that I gained an immense respect for those who fight for their country. When the movie first started I was actually thinking the opposite. The lack of dialogue made it hard to figure out which fighter jet was on which side and my lack of historical knowledge also made it difficult to grasp what was happening. That being said, as it progressed I began to understand what was happening more clearly. Seeing that I am not a veteran of any war, I cannot speak on how it actually is for those who experience it first hand, but I felt that the movie gave me a pretty accurate idea of what war is like, and specifically what fighting at Dunkirk was like. One warning I would give is that if you suffer from PTSD, especially from war, be prepared to hear a multitude of loud war noises such as gunshots, bombs, plane engines, crashes, fighting, and people drowning and take earplugs simply because of how loud the action is in the theatre.
The movie had me on the edge of my seat, literally, the entire two hours. The theatre I saw it at had those self-recliner chairs and more than a couple times I found that I had slid down to the point where my back was on the part of the chair where your feet are supposed to go. I don’t think the guy next to me liked that very much. Another thing I feel the need to point out is that I am a nail biter when anything nerve-wracking or suspenseful happens in movies. With Dunkirk, I was biting my nails the whole time and my heart would not stop pounding. What made this even worse was that the seats vibrated and moved every time there was a loud noise in the movie. It was fun at first but it ended up making the movie that much more suspenseful to me. So that is telling of how suspenseful it was.
On to the cast, a phenomenal group of actors that took me by surprise. It is hard to say who would be considered the “main cast” because the plot regularly switched between three different perspectives of the battle. If I had to pick out the leads, however, I would probably include Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy. Each is the main character, per se, in one of the three perspectives.
Whitehead plays a soldier desperately trying to get home and, while he is a character of a few words (as pretty much all the characters are), his performance was equally moving and heartbreaking. Along with his journey, he tag-teams with a fellow soldier played by Aneurin Barnard who ends up not being who he initially appears to be. The two meet Styles, another soldier, as they attempt to make it onto a rescue boat. Styles’ character was refreshingly a leader-type soldier and showed a different, more demanding side of Styles (even though it was acting, as someone who has been following him for years I really liked seeing this side of him). He also drops a couple F bombs, which, let’s be honest, was really effing awesome.
Mark Rylance plays a citizen who takes his own personal boat to the shores of Dunkirk to rescue soldiers, along with his son and another boy (Bobby Lockwood and Barry Keoghan). They rescue a soldier from a sea-wrecked plane (Cillian Murphy) who insists that going to Dunkirk is a suicide mission. What I genuinely enjoyed about Murphy’s character is that it showed the immediate effects of war and PTSD with a soldier who is this close to freedom. Spoiler alert: everything doesn’t turn out peachy with these four. About an hour or so into the movie, Whitehead and crew collide with Rylance’s boat and the two perspectives mesh into one.
Hardy plays a fighter jet pilot attempting to keep the enemy off of the sitting duck soldiers on the beach. His character was one of my favorites because he was truly a hero and, as you will see when you watch it, sacrifices a lot to keep the soldiers safe. Alongside him is another pilot played by Jack Lowden who ends up crashing into the sea on purpose (or at least that is what I gathered from the action) so he can escape the plane, However, he finds himself in a predicament as the top of the plane is stuck and won’t open, so he is rapidly sinking. Storylines collide again as Rylance’s boat happens to be nearby and rescues him. This part of the plot happens before they rescue the soldiers from the oil so only Rylance, Lockwood, Keoghan and Murphy are on board.
All in all, Dunkirk was an amazing experience not only because it was a true story, but because of the amazing cinematography and the incredible acting from everyone, even the extras whose only job was to stand on the beach and look scared.
By far my favorite part of the experience was how intricately the three different perspectives wove together. There was not one part of the movie where I sat there thinking “I really dislike this part of the plot”. It kept me on my toes, this time not literally, and forced me to really think about the effects of war on soldiers and veterans, the reasons countries go to war, and the individual people responsible for huge victories. Because of this, and the extremely talented cast, I highly encourage everyone to watch Dunkirk.