5 Things to Know Before Seeing 'Dunkirk'

6:30 AM 7/20/2017

by Ashley Lee

THR highlights who plays that young soldier, why there's so much buzz and what the critics are saying.

  • What’s It About?

    Courtesy of Warner Bros.

    The war drama, which Warner Bros. releases on Friday, centers on the British military evacuation of the titular French city in 1940, one of the biggest battles during World War II. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the film’s ensemble cast includes Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and One Direction’s Harry Styles.

  • What’s the Big Deal?

    Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

    In comparison to most war films, Dunkirk has very, very little dialogue and focuses and spans a relatively short period of time. “It places you so absolutely in the situation of conflict —you don’t learn the details of characters’ backstories or even their surnames, you just see how this group reacts in this situation, make it a nail-biting encounter,” Branagh told THR at the U.S. premiere of the film. “[Nolan] wanted it to be an experiential ‘fight or flight’ test, and it’s unrelenting in its engagement and doesn’t let the audience off the hook. You’re invited in to experience it as they’re experiencing it —as in, with not enough time to think or process things.” Nolan’s oft-collaborator Murphy also shared a piece of advice for audiences: “Get some rest first!”

  • Who Is That Soldier?

    Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

    While the bigger names play pilots, ranking officers and brave civilians, one fresh face plays a notable foot soldier: Fionn Whitehead. Making his feature debut in Dunkirk, the 20-year-old London actor is next starring in Richard Eyre's The Children Act alongside Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci, and Sebastian Schipper's Caravan. Jack Lowden, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan, James D’Arcy and Aneurin Barnard are also among the film’s younger cast — as well as Styles in his first acting role.

  • How Are the Reviews?

    Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

    Dunkirk currently has a 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. THR's critic called it “an impressionist masterpiece … [in which] Nolan has gotten everything just right," and highlights the film’s cinematography, production designer, costume designer and score. "All of Nolan's films are intensely visual, but it's fair to say that Dunkirk is especially so, given the sparseness, and strict functionality, of the dialogue. This is not a war film of inspirational speeches, digressions about loved ones back home or hopes for the future. No, it's all about the here and now and matters at hand under conditions that demand both endless waiting and split-second responses." Other critics agree, ranking it as Nolan's best work to date and calling it “awe-inspiring and alienating, as it should be.”

  • Is It a Hit?

    Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

    Screening in both IMAX and 70mm film, Dunkirk is projected to make a domestic debut in the $35 million-$40 million range this weekend. Though war dramas have never been known for big box-office openings, Nolan —the mastermind behind Inception and the blockbuster Dark Knight trilogy —is a powerful brand unto himself. Also, many believe the film will have exceptionally strong legs, ones that might take Nolan to the Oscars for the very first time.

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