Fionn Whitehead plays a soldier in Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk," due on July 21. Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon

There’s a new trailer for the forthcoming World War II movie “Dunkirk.” And it’s pretty intense, filled with dog fights in the air, soldiers trying not to drown in submerging water, civilians chipping into help. It’s the kind of movie we don’t see anymore. And the only reason it exists — and maybe the only reason why a lot of people will go see it in theaters on July 21 — is because of two words: Christopher Nolan.

Right now, Nolan’s probably the most famous director in the world — the guy whose name is enough to get tons of butts in the theater. “Dunkirk” doesn’t even have many huge names. It’s mostly a bunch of Brits. Tom Hardy’s a name, but hardly on the A-list. The rest are familiar character actors, like Cillian Murphy and James D’Arcy, plus old guard like Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance. (There’s also Harry Styles acting, which must be something.) The biggest name in the movie is Christopher Nolan himself.

That will probably be enough to get people stoked for a movie about the evacuation of Dunkirk, which is not to be confused with the Battle of Dunkirk. It was during the Battle of France, when throngs of British, Belgian, Canadian and French troops were cornered by the German army. This necessitated a rescue, which involved both military and civilian efforts.

We saw five random minutes of “Dunkirk” a few months back. It wasn’t clear where these scenes fit into the big picture; it seemed like bits of footage from different areas — air, land and sea — edited into a single, nerve-wracking montage. It betrayed what we can assume will be Nolan’s detached but precise approach — as professional and stiff-upper-lip as the British themselves.


Ditto the trailer, which shows officers and soldiers scrambling about to survive, ships filling up with water and Hardy’s pilot locking an enemy plane into his sights before firing off a missile. We’re beyond happy that an old-fashioned war film is one of this summer’s biggest movies. If only it didn’t take someone with Nolan’s stature to get them done at all.

Watch the trailer below:

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