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Dunkirk - Movie Review

5 starsBritish Prime Minister Winston Churchill, during a speech to the House of Commons in June of 1940 in the opening months of World War II, famously said, “Our policy is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us.”

Inspired by Churchill’s timeless words, filmmaker Christopher Nolan utilizes that same exact three-pronged approach as the framework around which his new World War II film, Dunkirk is structured. The movie plays out via three distinctly separate stories, each operating within a different time frame: one based on land and taking course over a week’s time, another taking place at sea over an entire day, and the third occurring in the air within the span of a single hour.

This unconventional format is initially a bit disorienting as Nolan and his filmmaking team, including longtime editing partner Lee Smith, mash all three timelines together within Nolan’s shortest runtime to date. But as things progress, we begin to recognize the different levels of intensity he gets from his tryptic approach. The result is a triumphant feat of heart-pounding filmmaking that plunges us deep into the middle of war action and brings a refreshing unconventionality to the war movie genre in a way we’ve never before experienced. Dunkirk is not so much a battlefield drama as it is ticking-clock thriller with the highest of consequences at stake.

The film provides very little insight into what is going on and there’s even less dialogue to orient viewers to a particular point in the action. In fact, any dialogue there is, gets either drowned out by the din of battle chaos or becomes lost in the lilt of English colloquialism. It really doesn’t matter though, as we soon learn that all hell has broken out on the French mainland with the Germans having pushed the European allies to the country’s western shores in Dunkirk, France, a scant 30 or so miles across the channel from the British mainland. With her soldiers’ backs to the sea, the British government summons all non-military boats, skiffs, trawlers, and any seaworthy vessel to Dunkirk to help with the evacuation.

In the “land” portion of the story, we meet a baby-faced soldier named Tommy (newcomer Fionn Whitehead), wide-eyed from the horrors of war, who finds his way to the beaches of Dunkirk where 300,000+ of his fellow fighters await evacuation on troop ships unable to reach them. Meanwhile, military officers led by Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branaugh) hope for a miracle as time runs out. Their desperation is never more evident than when seemingly nearly every boat they pile into is immediately sunk by torpedoes or dive bombers.

As the Germans pound and strafe the “mole” (a kilometer-long breakwater jetty) with bombs and machine gun fire, a small armada of civilian crafts sets out for England on the short journey to the besieged French city across the channel. One particular craft – a small pleasure yacht – is helmed by an opportunistic man named Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his two sons Peter and George. Along their treacherous day-long journey through choppy seas, they pick up a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) and a downed fighter pilot left adrift in the sea. The gravity of the situation and the horrors of war ramp up as they get closer and closer to Dunkirk. “There’s no hiding from this, son” Dawson quips as his two young boys shudder at the sights of the approaching battle.

In the “air” part of the story, we follow the hour-long flight of two RAF Spitfire fighter pilots (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden) patrolling the skies over the English Channel. Blisteringly intense dogfights ensue as the pilots engage the enemy in a dangerous game of aerial cat and mouse.

Nolan’s decision to avoid the use of soul-sucking CGI in favor of practical effects and on-location sets (including filming on the beaches of Dunkirk where the evacuation actually took place), pays off grandly with an unsettlingly visceral texture and sense of place that pulls us directly into the action. He pushes the envelope of aerial combat footage by utilizing iMax and 65mm cameras mounted directly inside vintage fighter cockpits. The result is some of the most thrilling aerial combat footage you’ll ever see. We get a thrilling point-of-view seat as we settle our crosshairs over the Stuka dive-bombers and strafing ME-109s and pull the trigger to unleash an unholy hell of machine gun fire. These are real people, real planes, and actual explosions. Loud explosions. The difference is certainly noticeable and greatly appreciated.

Venture out by air, land, or sea to catch Dunkirk in the iMax format. It’s well worth the money and frankly, the only way to experience it.


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Dunkirk - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense war experience and some language.
106 mins
: Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan
Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard
: War | Military
When 400,000 men couldn't get home, home came for them..
Memorable Movie Quote: "There’s no hiding from this, son."
Theatrical Distributor:
Warner Bros.
Official Site: http://www.dunkirkmovie.com/
Release Date:
July 21, 2017
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
December 19, 2017.
Synopsis: Dunkirk opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces. Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in.


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Dunkirk - Movie Review


Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Warner Bros.
Available on Blu-ray - December 19, 2017
Screen Formats: 2.2:1:1; 1.78:1
Subtitles: English SDH; French; German: Portuguese
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1; English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; three-disc set; DVD-Copy; BD for supplementals; Digital copy; Movies Anywhere
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Warner invades our home theaters with its release of Christopher Nolan's WWII epic, Dunkirk on 1080p and 4K UltraHD blu-ray that is absolutely spectacular. In this analysis we'll only cover the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital release, but if the 4K Ultra version is handled with the same loving care and attention to detail as the 1080p, rest assured 4K'ers, you are in for a special treat.

One of the last celluloid holdouts in the business, Christopher Nolan employed the use of both IMAX and Panavision 65mm film cameras throughout the shoot. As a result, while watching, you'll notice the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 occasionally shift to 2.20:1 when the IMAX camera kicks in. While the effect is much more remarkable in theaters as the frame opens up for wide vistas and open ocean shots, the transitions are barely even noticeable on home video. And no, contrary to speculation, it is not distracting, and no, it doesn't ruin the release.

But what is noticeable are the clean, crisp details, inky blacks and properly-saturated colors of the 1080p transfer that brings every grain of Dunkirk sand into focus while rattling our brains with the ear-drum-crushing DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio soundtrack. Sorry, folks, there is no Dolby Atmos audio on any of the versions to date, which is a bit disappointing as Nolan's subject matter screams for the Atmos treatment. Just imagine hearing those Mercedes-Benz-powered Spitfires diving into your home theater from above.

Regardless, Warner's 5.1 audio treatment (heavily supervised by Nolan himself) works your setup with bombs that explode in the rear of the room and machine gun fire that rapid-fires through the front left-to-right audio array – a beautiful thing to behold. It's often difficult to understand the pilots as they mumble to one another through their headsets, but the dialogue actually seems a bit more discernable in the home video release than it did during its theatrical run. Raises the question of whether Nolan and crew addressed the complaints for the home video release.

There's not a lot of color throughout the film as most scenes take place on the murky sea, inside the pitch black hulls of ships, or in the cockpit of airplanes. But there's a gorgeously soppy consistency running throughout that plops us down onto the chilly mole or the dank surf of Dunkirk. When there is color, whether it be the stark yellow noses of the Messerschmitts or the beautiful shops and houses within the city of Dunkirk, it is never over-saturated and always pops beautifully against DP Van Hoytema's overarching palette. Very little crunching is evident and even in the darkest of dark scenes, no wall-crawl is noticed.

It is widely known that Nolan is a big fan of practical effects where possible, and his propensity pays off big in Dunkirk – especially this hi-def blu-ray treatment. Those beautiful blue oceans? The real thing. The towering black smoke plumes miles away in the distance? The real thing. Those intricately detailed steamers, destroyers, and small ships that sailed across the English Channel to rescue the Allied force? Yep, those are real too. There's very little of the overused cold, heartless CGI effects to suck the life out of the film. Its' almost all the real thing, and it is beautifully rendered in this release.



There isn't a feature-length commentary, but we get plenty of commentary and insight from the disc's numerous interviews and behind-the-scenes features scattered throughout the plethora of supplemental material.

Special Features:

Creation – Historians, actors, film crew, and Nolan himself visit the actual beach in Dunkirk to discuss the historical significance of the Dunkirk evacuation, the reasons for in-camera effects, using the IMAX cameras, and the dangers with such large-scale practical sets.

  • Creation: Revisiting the Miracle
  • Creation: Dunkerque
  • Creation: Expanding the Frame
  • Creation: The In-Camera Approach

Land - Filmmakers discuss the production of the film's segments on land, from reconstructing the mole to coordinating the impressive beach shots to making the soldiers' uniforms and selecting the cast of young actors.

  • Land: Rebuilding the Mole
  • Land: The Army on the Beach
  • Land: The Uniform Approach

Air – Fascinating sequences that highlight how the crew obtained and modified existing vintage airplanes used in the filming, the choreographed aerial shots, and construction and use of the gimbal to film the cockpit shots

  • Air: Taking to the Air
  • Air: Inside the Cockpit

Sea – The crew discusses how they obtained and retrofitted existing time-period ships (including the hundreds of little ships and schooners) used in the film including the Moonstone which was used for a significant segment of the film.

  • Sea: Assembling the Naval Fleet
  • Sea: Launching the Moonstone
  • Sea: Taking to the Sea
  • Sea: Sinking the Ships
  • Sea: The Little Ships


  • Conclusion: Turning Up the Tension
  • Conclusion: The Dunkirk Spirit


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