Director Christopher Nolan uses all the elements: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire and immerses the audience in war, specifically WWII. Without using any computer-generated imagery, Nolan reenacts the rescue and the non-rescue of soldiers at Dunkirk.

The film, simply named “Dunkirk”, uses sound over dialogue, the mundane over the heroic, and patient waiting in constrast to spritely action. When hundreds of thousands of men and women are sitting ducks for the German war machine, we see the problem from three arenas: land, air, and sea.

The Hans Zimmer sound track is beautiful. The sounds of war totally deafening. The strings quicken the heart and create a-tonal suspense. The percussion beats repeat and terrify. We are there. Our ears are assaulted; our eyes field the battle.

Again, the elements are forceful, emotional, practical, and logical. There are 400,000 servicemen waiting for a transit miracle. Most are young. They must eat, drink, and poop. They must be lucky for screeching bombs and elementary target practice can spray more than sand.

No historical framework is given except for the place and the year, no one character moves the plot, no dialogue illuminates the scenes. We see men running with stretchers, life preservers doled out by nurses, and tea and peanut butter and jelly bread offered below deck. We learn that one stretcher takes the place of seven servicemen.

“Fish in a barrel” is another metaphor used to describe the situation found on the Dunkirk beach. Small boats are needed to ferry men to the destroyers. Mark Rylance plays the stalwart British citizen, who along with his son ( Tom Glynn-Carney ) and a neighbor boy rescue a shell-shocked pilot (Cillian Murphy) from the English Channel. Rylance and Glynn-Carney recross the Channel and carry back numerous survivors. Rylance shows the carry-on, stiff upper lip spirit like no other. Lies are told to give a weary soldier a few more hours of peace. Father and son are heroes in action and in psychology.

Here is suspense on all three fronts. Tom, played by Fionn Whitehead, is stable, moral and sound. A grounded boat becomes a hopeful vehicle for Tom and a dozen men. They just must wait until high tide carries them aloft the waves. Too much weight has a few demanding the sacrifice of others. Bullying ensues to devastating effect. Frantic swimming, flaying, and suicide, all are seen.

Tom Hardy’s realm is the cockpit. Running low on fuel, he masters the enemy and sacrifices his plane for the Allied cause.

There are successes. Kenneth Branagh is the Navy Colonel in charge. He understands that luck is in play. He organizes lines in quiet misery. Oil-soaked men are set on fire indiscriminately while others see Dorset and the White Cliffs of Dover.

Being immersed in war in a salvage operation is harrowing. Director Nolan crafts an evacuee thriller that puts viewers in the middle of a battle to retreat. Plugging holes on listing ships and cockpits filling with water are not as horrific as viewing fear in the faces of young, helmeted men. This film works as realism in a large-scale rescue operation. The cinematography is all blues, browns and grays. This French beach in the spring of 1940 will be remembered because of the faces that stood there, and Nolan who let us stand with them.


There are not many movies that will take you back to researching  The Munich Accord of 1939, but Director Sean Ellis’  film “Anthropoid” does. Sudetenland was to be given to the Germans if Hitler desisted in expanding his territories. Hitler got part of the Czech countryside and continued to invade. This time Poland. The humiliation of the Czech people was the sacrifice arbitrated by Britain’s Neville Chamberlain. ” Any sort of peace at any sort of price” is juxtaposed against the incredible tolls of war. I have never seen more brutal German interrogation ( thus the title “almost human”) or more moral and soul-searching waverings in the psyches of resistance soldiers  than I did in this film.

The British/ Czech mission called  Anthropoid aimed to assassinate the Third  Reich leader Reinhard  Heydrich, “The Butcher of  Prague” and the architect of ” The Final Solution”.

The film begins with the quiet that only a heavily snowed forrest can provide. Two parachutists , under the cover of dark, glide behind enemy lines. Tree branches crack and chutes are quickly buried under a few inches of snow. There is an unsafe cabin, (informers) , killings, and a truck stolen. In Prague, a veterinarian  helps heal a branch stab wound. With the sympathizer vet’s help, the two MI-6 trained operatives make their connections via an underground Anti-Nazi Czech resistance group. It is a slow cinematic start, but made up for in the action-packed second half.

Writer, Anthony Frewin frames the story, and a few details are unclear. We become engaged once the operatives become housed with the Moravec family (the taciturn Czech General, his wife, son Oliver, a young domestic helper, Marie ~Charlotte Le Bon) Here, the parachutists’ personalities are revealed. Josef Gabcik ( Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis ( Jamie Dornan ) show us what brave non- coms, who can speak German and are excellent marksmen, can do. Be prepared for a battle in St. Bartholomeus Orthodox Church that is as harrowing and intense as any battle filmed.

The cinematography is also lovely with fog, cobblestones, 1930 cityscapes, and amber glowing interiors. The church crypt and the water drownings mesmerizing. Viewers will remember the music: violins and staccato weaponry. Some of the images remind us of other films like the boy in the striped pajamas. Rather than being derivative, this adds to the film’s theme. Secret codes, fire escapes, sky lights, and romance lead us to a 1942 New Year’s Eve dance. With girls on their arms, Josef and Jan are less conspicuous .  Lenka, ( Anna Geilerova) Marie’s savvy friend, reminds us that “a little lipstick is all that let’s us forget want is happening here.” She has no romantic ideas about the war, but knows when to inch her skirt up her knee.

Based on the true story of the planning and the execution of Heydrich, the film amazes. How  can a bomb hand thrown into a car, out in the open, by a bicyclist signaled by a mirror succeed? The tension created is admirable for the same reasons, a drop of forehead sweat, a shaking hand, the perennial baby carriage, the gun jam.

A state of emergency and curfew is called, door to door searches started, and a substantial reward posted and a full pardon promised. Massive reprisals included the razing of the village od Ludice. Two-hundred men and boys were killed. Women were shipped to camps, and children were sent to orphanages in Germany. Over 1,133 Czechs were killed and 3,000 Czech Jews exterminated in the Terezin ghetto.

Heydrich, the only Nazi Commander ever assassinated, died from wounds received in the initial planned assault.  The  price was high: collateral damage in the fives of thousands. We, as viewers, are to ask if these sober estimates were worth it. One resistance fighter who does manage to swallow his cyanide pill did get to say, ” I regret nothing. You are the bravest men I have ever met.”  Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is invoked: “Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant  taste of death but once.” We think of the traitor,  Anton Kral, who takes the Nazi reward.

There was a Czech couple sitting next to us in the theatre Saturday evening.  They were incredibly moved and sat with us in the first row until the final credits rolled. I wanted to engage them, but feared to intrude. I nodded and followed them out still wishing more people would see this film and understand past sacrifices and learn a little history.

“In The Heart Of The Sea”

“Secrets fester in a man’s soul”, and who to bring these secrets to the screen better than Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson seems born for this mythic role of whale ship tragedy and repression. As Thomas Nickerson his ordeal at fourteen begins in Nantucket in 1819. The cabin boy of the twenty-man crew of the Essex will endure the unthinkable and suffer as a survivor into his seventies, when his devils are released by putting pen to paper instead of stein to lip.

Based on the true story of the source of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, “In The Heart Of The Sea” adheres to Nathaniel Philbrick’s masterful book. As a leading authority of Nantucket history, Philbrick brought a richness of detail and ardor for maritime pioneering, navigation, whale biology and human kinship.

Philbrick’s 2000 National Book Award winner should be required reading in all U.S. high schools. Philbrick’s non-fiction may inspire students to tackle the great American novel Moby Dick on their own. Lesson planning should include viewing Director Ron Howard’s film for it makes seafaring come alive with close shots of strenuous sea work and glorious overhead shots of roiling waves and thrashing winds. Whether filming harpoon sharpening or fields of flukes, man’s contentious encounter with nature and commerce is viscerally drawn. This is an action film even when starvation and dehydration bring movement to a stand still. Psychological knock-downs rain down,too.

Chris Hemsworth’s Adonis good looks is another reason to learn about first mate Owen Chase, who actually wrote a polished account of the Essex ramming in 1821. Hemsworth is helm’s worthy to be sure. He is last to abandon ship and the voice that we hear say of the great white leviathan, ” He is mine,as I live and breathe”.
The Essex lists, but we follow Chase as the ink of the captain’s log washes away. Even Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) says, “You were born to this job, I was just born into it.”

Pollard is upper class and considers men earthly kings who can bend nature to their will. Chase feels small in comparison to God’s creatures: “We are specks”. The screenplay does not develop this philosophical debate, but it introduces it for the taking.

Global demand for sperm whale oil has its connections to our demand for ground oil today. The clamor for investment is fashioned in ink well form, but the point is made that the natural world is often expended for profit.

I liked the story’s frame of Herman Melville ( Ben Whislaw) coaxing the story out of Nickerson in order to incorporate authentic experience into his novel. I liked the final inquiry when both Chase and Pollard concurred that the whale brought down the Essex. Sea monsters threatening industry was not white-washed for profit.

“Abominations” of cannibalism persisted in Owen Chase’s brain and we learn from Philbrick’s book that old age was not good to him. ”  His memory of his suffering in an open dingy never left him and he began hiding food in the attic of his house on Orange Street. By 1868 Chase was judged “insane”.”  Howard leaves us with Owen Chase holding his wife and two-year old daughter, a happier ending.

In truth, Chase’s personal life did not fare well. At twenty-seven, he found himself a widower with three children to care for. He was married four times. Once to the widow of second mate Matthew Joy ( Cillian Murphy). As for George Pollard, ( Benjamin Walker) lots of stories are recorded in Philbrick’s book. One has Pollard honoring yearly those lost on the Essex by locking himself in his room and fasting. Another dozen movies could be made from the material in Philbrick’s book!

I say get started by visiting the Whaling Museum on Nantucket, reading Philbrick’s and Chase’s and Melville’s works, and enjoying the technological feats and cinematic elegance of Howard’s film.