‘Dunkirk’ Might Just Be the Best Film of the Year

Every week a new action movie hits the multiplexes. It’s usually a sequel, reboot or comic book retread. That’s not to say they’re always bad, see “Aliens” under sequel, “Mad Max: Fury Road” under reboot or “Wonder Woman” under comic book retread. But it’s always refreshing when a good and original action film pops up on the big screen. Many people might classify “Dunkirk” as a war film, but it’s really an action film set during the infamous World War II battle.

To set the stage, here’s a little history. Dunkirk, and the evacuation associated with the troops trapped there, was called a “miracle” by Winston Churchill. As the German army swept through western Europe in the spring of 1940, World War II was about to start in earnest. The Phoney War – the eight-month period at the start of World War II during which there were no major military land operations on the Western Front — was now over. The advancing German Army trapped the British and French armies on the beaches around Dunkirk. 330,000 men were trapped here and they were a sitting target for the Germans. The beach at Dunkirk was on a shallow slope so no large boat could get near the actual beaches where the men were. Therefore, smaller boats were needed to take men onboard who would then be transferred to a larger boat further off shore. Starting on May 26, 1940, small ships transferred soldiers to larger ones which then brought them across the English Channel to a port in southern Britain. 800 of these legendary “little ships” were used.

In what might be writer/director Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus, “Dunkirk” is told from three points of view. We spend a week on land with one young British soldier (Fionn Whitehead) trying to get home. We spend a day at sea with a yachtsman (Mark Rylance) and his son as they pilot their small boat to help the cause. And we spend an hour in the air as Royal Air Force pilots (Jack Lowden and Tom Hardy) try to shoot down enemy planes. Harry Styles is solid in his acting debut as is frequent Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy who portrays a soldier afflicted with PTSD. And, as always, Kenneth Branagh lends a quiet gravitas to his role as Commander Bolton, the man tasked with leading the Dunkirk evacuation.

And that’s the plot. It’s simple but powerful. There are no cheesy subplots. There are no cheesy characters. There is no cheesy dialogue. In fact, there are large stretches of the film where little is spoken. This is a great example of the less is more approach. Without any distracting exposition, you feel as if you’re right in the middle of the action.

Movie reviews can lend themselves to clichés. “It’s an edge-of-your-seat thriller!” “It’s the thrill ride of the summer!” It’s a white-knuckle epic!” Well, “Dunkirk” is all of those things. And you know how most movies could cut out 20-30 minutes and not lose anything? At a taut and tight 107 minutes, “Dunkirk” is all substance and no filler. It’s easily the best film of the year so far.

With the release of “Dunkirk,” the race to the Oscars has officially started. It’s a shoo-in for a Best Picture nomination along with a slew of technical awards. And Nolan will finally receive his long-awaited and much-deserved first nomination for Best Director.

Dunkirk” opens in theaters July 21.