Colombini: Three fantastic war films (two new and one from WWII) that center on Dunkirk

Review: Three fantastic war films (two new and one from WWII) that center on Dunkirk

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One can take heart that two truly worthy films have earned a total of 14 Academy Award nominations between them—two films with overlapping themes of personal courage, patience in adversity, and love of country. Come March 4, I hope they sweep their categories.

VIDEO: Official Movie Trailer to movie trailer ‘Darkest Hour’ starring Gary Oldman as Churchill

Christopher Nolan’s 2017 Dunkirk, with eight nominations, tells the story of the 1940 mass rescue of more than 300,000 doomed soldiers from three vantage points, over three different time-frames that thread together over the course of the 106-minute film. We see the desperation of the soldiers on the beach, looking for any way to get across the channel, back to a home they can almost see across the water. We watch aerial combat by a couple of RAF airmen with a desperately short amount of fuel and a well-armed foe. We see an older man and two teens aboard their small pleasure craft on the way to Dunkirk, rescuing one shell-shocked soldier tormented by the idea of going back in the wrong direction, to a bleeding and burning France.

For those who were displeased that the movie left politics (and Winston Churchill, specifically) out of the action, 2017 closed with the release of another film, Darkest Hour (six Oscar nominations) fills the void. Directed by Joe Wright, the actor Gary Oldman admirably plays Churchill during those brief days between his ascendancy to prime minister and Operation Dynamo, as the Dunkirk effort was formally called. The film’s debate centers on appeasement to Hitler and whether Churchill is the right choice for PM at the time. Its biggest criticism is the implication that the great man had internal doubts about his resolve and his country’s ability to withstand the Germans.

The movie’s controversial Underground scene, where he is bolstered by strong support from the British people as a sort of impromptu focus group, serves only to inspire him to stay true to his well-honed instinct. Perhaps politicians stateside need to try this tactic more often.

Against all odds, the Dunkirk rescue proved him right, and the right man for the job.

Just as Nolan tells the Dunkirk saga three ways—by land, by sea, and by air—we’re not getting the entire Dunkirk story without looking back three-quarters of a century to an earlier movie that, taken with the two more recent offerings, provides a truly three-dimensional approach to one of the greatest stories of the war: 1942’s Mrs. Miniver, directed by William Wyler. One could consider it Episode One of the Dunkirk trilogy.

Back in those halcyon days of Hollywood, the movie received six Academy Awards, including best picture, going up against such heavy competition as The Pride of the Yankees, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Yankee Doodle Dandy. Wyler and Greer Garson picked up trophies, along with Teresa Wright as best supporting actress. Walter Pidgeon’s role as the doting husband was understandably overshadowed at the Oscars by James Cagney in his patriotic portrayal of George M. Cohan.

This article continues at [Crisis Magazine] In Praise of the Dunkirk Trilogy

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