Scene & Heard: ‘Dunkirk’ might very well be Nolan’s best work to date

By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer

It May 1940, roughly 400,000 Allied soldiers were pinned down by twice as many Nazis. Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, and the fact that help was in short supply, over 338,000 soldiers were evacuated.

Harry Styles as Alex, Aneurin Barnard as Gibson and Fionn Whitehead as Tommy in the Warner Bros. Pictures action thriller “Dunkirk,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures © 2017 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

There. That right there is an incredible story that’s ready-made for virtually any director to step in and create a straight forward blockbuster biopic.

But, let’s face it, not every director is Christopher Nolan.

Instead of the straight forward approach, Nolan (as he typically does) opted to tell the story from a unique perspective. Or, rather, three unique perspectives.

Told in a nonlinear format, “Dunkirk” intertwines stories set at a mole on Dunkirk Beach (think of it as a concrete pier that helped protect the beach), the sea, and the air.

The Mole, follows Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and a slew of other British soldiers, including Alex (Harry Styles), as they search for escape from their aggressors.

The Sea relays the heroic tale of Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and Peter’s friend, George (Barry Keoghan), as they navigate dangerous waters in the family’s small yacht to rescue as many soldiers as possible.

Soldiers stranded on Dunkirk Beach wait for rescue in “Dunkirk.” (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures © 2017 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

Meanwhile, The Air, follows the exploits of fighter pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) as they provide air support for the evacuation – shooting down Nazi fighters and keep foot soldiers at bay whenever possible.

The Dunkirk story is already riveting on its own, but somehow Nolan managed to take it up a notch by giving it a personal feel. Yes, most people know that the evacuation/rescue was largely successful, but because these particular characters are either 100% fictional or composites of relayed stories, Nolan (who also wrote the film) had the creative freedom to do with them as he saw fit. The fact that these characters could die at any moment be wiped out (and many are), it adds a level of intrigue that a straight forward biopic couldn’t provide.

Some will lament the nonlinear storytelling, but for me it helped build on the intrigue. Because you hop from story to story, you have to remain attentive and be able to quickly recall where each piece left off. Yes, it will be a thorn in the side for those who want to just sit down and get from point A to point B, but the payoff when all three stories intersect is more than worth it.

Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson in the Warner Bros. Pictures action thriller “Dunkirk,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon rescue in “Dunkirk.” (©2017 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

For me, however, the real star of the show is the sound. The dialogue isn’t as scant as some would have you believe, but the narrative of “Dunkirk” is most definitely not word-driven. Be it the gunfire, the planes, the ships, the sounds of thousands of soldiers under attack, or whatever else cropped up, the sound is so spot-on that there could have been ZERO spoken lines and I would have remained as enthralled.

When your directorial filmography includes “Memento,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Inception,” continuing an upward trajectory is virtually impossible. But, as I said before, not every director is Christopher Nolan.

★★★★1/2 of ★★★★★

Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at