If you are not much of a historian, I’m not sure how you will feel after seeing Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.” A dramatic action film that functions as a documentary, it concentrates on 400,000 English soldiers trapped on a French beach in late May 1940. Nolan immerses the audience to the point where you feel like one of the desperate soldiers seeking a way to get home to England.
I had the pleasure of accompanying three friends to Europe 15 years ago where we traveled to various battlefields that included Normandy, Verdun and Dunkirk. It remains a memorable experience, and I have a picture in my office of me and my colleagues as we stood before a famous Dunkirk memorial.
This poignant film functions on three different levels. The first is the long dock on the beach where Kenneth Branagh and James D’Arcy play Commander Bolton and Colonel Winnant, the British officers trying to maintain order as various soldiers line up to leave on the available boats. Intensity fills every moment as you watch German fighters strafe the beach and bomb the boats.
Nolan then has his camera focus on three British Spitfires as they try to provide some cover for the troops at the clear risk of their own lives. Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden play two of the pilots, and you will find your heart inevitably thumping as these two brave men risk running out of fuel as they dart through the skies to save their comrades at sea.
The third segment is one of the most dramatic, as it concentrates on a private boat owned and operated by Mr. Dawson, a British civilian accompanied by his son and a young friend. Mark Rylance gives a startlingly moving performance as Mr. Dawson, and he is willing to risk his own life to travel to Dunkirk and provide a passage home to a few of his countrymen fighting for their survival. In addition, the two boys never waver in their support of Mr. Dawson, and the performance of Barry Koeghan as a young English lad, George, will captivate you.
Additionally, the film is helped by the performance of Cillian Murphy, who plays a soldier rescued at sea by Mr. Dawson. The experience has left him shell shocked, and you learn a lesson of war, namely that some heroes are emotionally incapable of acting like heroes.
Ironically, a strength and weakness of the film is that all of the soldiers tend to blend together as one as they are shot at on the beach and bombed at sea. While the camera concentrates on the efforts of two Brits played by Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles, they serve as an amalgam of the 400,000 young men who escaped to fight again in this tragic war.
As I walked the beaches of Dunkirk on my visit, it was impossible not to imagine the hundreds of small British boats manned by civilian men and women risking their own lives in this epic escape. The British lacked destroyers to provide meaningful assistance, and it was these civilians who turned out to be the actual heroes.
Hollywood has attempted some bawdy girls’ comedy over the last year that disappointed, so why should you be remotely interested in “Girls Trip?” With the exception of the surprisingly funny “Bad Moms” (2016), movies like “Snatched,” “Rough Night” and “Office Christmas Party” have proven to be embarrassingly dull.
Fortunately, Hollywood has finally discovered that films with an all African-American cast frequently prove to be as funny as they are entertaining, and this film fits into that mold. It is endearing, raunchy, wonderfully creative and wildly madcap at every turn.
The film centers on four longtime friends traveling to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival. While they have professions and personal relationships that differ, their reunion on an airplane leaves you laughing hysterically from that moment until the end of the film.
The friends are played by Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish, and these four women coalesce into a deviant quartet that has few boundaries. On top of that, it is important to point out all of the drinking, drugs and debauchery revolve around a plot that has unexpected dramatic significance. In that sense, it is similar to last year’s “Almost Christmas.”
Hall plays Ryan, a married woman who has an important meeting in New Orleans where her future as an author and TV personality hangs in the balance. She is set to promote a meaningful life based in part on her marriage to a philandering husband (played by Mike Colter), and things quickly start to explode.
The surprising plot concerns other issues, but let me simply point out the incredible performance by Haddish, who plays Dina, one of the funniest women ever to appear on the big screen. Wildly inventive and profane beyond words, it soon becomes apparent that sex and drugs are her calling card. You’ve seen her previously in “Keanu,” the film starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, and this is a comedienne riding a rocket ship to national recognition.
While I don’t dare give anything away in this film, let me just say that there is a moment where our girls are taking a short zip line trip across a crowded street in New Orleans. It is so funny that the theater audience was left in hysteria.
I’ll close with an observation that I have made about other films. As a Caucasian male, there are certain movies that are immensely helped when seen with an African-American crowd. This is one of them. It’s not that it wouldn’t be funny if seen in Hamilton County, but films like “Girls Trip” have added significance when you are surrounded by the reactions of African-American women. I saw it at Glendale here in Indy for that reason, and it added to the incredible joy of seeing this preposterously entertaining film.•
• Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.