By Victoria Alexander, Film Critic

Las Vegas Informer

With magnificent visuals, tension is the star.

There’s no crying in baseball and no romance in Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK.

Screened at Regal’s Red Rock IMAX Theater in Las Vegas.

Writer-director Nolan does not saddle one character to tell the story. It is dispensed with by off-handed remarks because we are in the middle of the attempted evacuation of British troops in 1940 in the early days of World War II. The enemy is never named due to our current warm relationship with the strongest economic power in Europe – Germany.

DUNKIRK is about the heroic rescue operation and not the Nazis.

Britain had to evacuate 200,000 of its soldiers along with nearly 140,000 Allied soldiers from northern France. The soldiers in DUNKIRK never mention the enemy’s name but they do show an open dislike for the French. A fleet of naval vessels were sent to rescue the soldiers but were under constant attack by the enemy’s determined airplanes. And they did plenty of damage.

According to warisboring.com, “The German army had split the Allied lines, pinning the British Expeditionary Force and the French and Belgian troops to the sea. Without the rescue, Britain would have likely fallen to fascism with the rest of Europe. And until the shell-shocked troops began arriving in British ports, the public was largely unaware of what was happening.”

warisboring.com (they haven’t seen DUNKIRK yet)  summarizes The Battle of Dunkirk with this: “The actual outcome of Dunkirk, May 26 to June 4, 1940, was a disaster. Most of the British Army’s equipment fell into the hands of Nazi Germany. France capitulated to the German invasion later that month. More than 68,000 British troops were killed, wounded or captured. But the rescue of most of the BEF kept the United Kingdom in the fight, and it bound the British public together for the first time in a war that had not—until the battle—hit home.”

DUNKIRK opens with British soldier, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), waking up in the besieged village and is quickly fired on. Why is he alone? Where is he supposed to go? It looks like chaos reigns until he finds the beach, where soldiers are lined up in perfect formation.

No one is yelling out orders. Everyone just stands in line. At this juncture, it looks like every man for himself. The men are waiting to embark on British naval vessels to take them home. What would American soldiers from New York have done in the same situation?

Tommy’s storyline is called, “The Mole”. Without any dialogue, Tommy and the various men he links up with, seem shell-shocked. When Tommy sees that injured men are given priority to board the hospital ship home, he grabs a dying man on a stretcher and, with the help of  another soldier, Gibson (Aneurin Barnard), brings the man to the leaving ship. Instead of returning to the beach as commanded, Tommy and Gibson hide between the dock and the ship. As the ship begins to leave, it is fired on and sinks. Tommy and Gibson start helping soldiers out of the water.

A call has gone out and Dunkirk fishermen respond. This section  is called “The Sea” and focuses on one fishermen.

Around 700 “little ships” took part in the rescue often with civilians at the helm, picking up soldiers.

With enemy planes firing on the ships, stoic captain Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), take their boat out to sea. The moment teenager George (Barry Keoghan) appears and asks to join them you know he’s doomed. Mr. Dawson and Peter have windswept halos. Rylance’s highly praised style, “The Suffering Moralist Method of Acting”, is on full display. When you are in pain, no one expects a monologue.

Around 700 “little ships” took part in the rescue often with civilians at the helm, picking up soldiers.

The first person Mr. Dawson picks up, sitting on top of a part of his sinking boat, is a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy). His erratic behavior causes the first life or death situation for Mr. Dawson. A conundrum for Mr. Dawson you will have to decide if he made the right call.

The Royal Air Force Though much of the Royal Air Force was ordered not to engage, a third strand called “The Air” focuses on two Spitfire pilots (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden) determined to protect, as best

In the nine days of the evacuation, the enemy lost 177 planes. The British lost 240 aircraft.

Nolan focuses on two British pilots, Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden). Sadly, once again Nolan has put Hardy in a mask. One of the soldiers is Harry Styles, who does a very nice job and somehow commands your attention in every crowded scene he’s in. He must have a powerful management team guiding his career from mega-stardom as a member of the British rock band, One Direction, to his first movie role in DUNKIRK.

Since DUNKIRK is about Dunkirk, Kenneth Branagh, as Commander Bolton, does nothing but look elegant in his uniform. The real commander probably had a lot to say but here he just stands around while soldiers are fighting all around him. Alexander the Great led his men in battle but now commanders just watch the action play out or hear about what happened at the end of the day.

With DUNKIRK, Nolan has established a very different kind of military epic. The high tension is constant. The way it was filmed gives you the intimacy of being right there. How Nolan kept this production under control, with the vast sets, huge crowds and explosions is a real feat of superior filmmaking.

Just the sounds and the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer kept my hands in front of my face.

DUNKIRK is a great achievement by Nolan and without a romance or star performance, a risky challenge. Under Nolan, easily pulled off.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com. 

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