This movie is so paper thin I really can't write much about it. So many missed opportunities in a film about one of the most spectacular and complex battles of WWII. I can see what Nolan tried to do here, a kind of British "Thin Red Line" (there's even wind in the grass, lol, i kid you not), but he failed spectacularly. There are no memorable characters to be found here, and one wonders even if there are any actual characters at all. Not one, not one of them has any semblance of a character arc. Not one. Again, I see how Nolan tried to convey the impersonality of war and insignificance of the individual but he did it with such a heavy, clumsy hand, providing us with no counterpoint with which to drive the point home. It's basic screen writing stuff really. I'd expect such ineptitude from a first year film student but not from a supposed "master of the craft".
But anyways, this could have been forgivable if the film was more about the event itself, but it fails at that too. After watching the film, you'd be given to believe that the Battle of Dunkirk was fought by three Spitfires (100 were lost over the beeches alone), 1 German heinkel, a couple of stukas, 2 destroyers or a dozen or so boats... Oh yes and maybe a few hundred men standing quietly on a beach, doing nothing except desperately trying to look morose and dejected in a faintly passive-aggressive way. It's ridiculous. We are talking about total and absolute chaos happening there, hundreds of thousands of rifles alone discarded on the beach, not to mention guns, artillery, trucks... Burning and sinking ships of all sizes all across the horizon, parts of beaches inaccessible from rotting corpses washing up with tides. This was actually way bigger than D-Day landings in terms of men and equipment stuffed in a very small patch of land. Half a million desperate men stuffed in a small town, bombarded incessantly and under constant attack from bombers. Where did all those people defecate, what did they eat ffs? I wanted to know that, really. That at least would have given some much needed humanity to the so-called-characters Nolan keeps yanking around like so much puppets. So many missed opportunities there...
If Nolan wanted to do a tight little film about isolation and desperation of being on the loosing side of the war, he had plenty of other places and battles to choose from. Just ask around. Or if he simply had to insist on Dunkirk, then we should have seen this total chaos all around our protagonists, in the background at least - that would have served as a really powerful, so desperately needed counterpoint to the individual suffering and heroism.
And this brings me to the final point. The movie is one tone only. A monotone repetition of sights and emotions we've seen and experienced before. No one cracks a joke. No one really breaks down. No one has an embarrassing moment. There are no ups and downs, it's just some morose faceless robots performing obvious actions leading towards a bleedingly obvious goal. One single emotional and narrative tone from the beginning to the end. The entire emotional and narrative content of the movie would have fit snugly into a 20 minute short, and that is pretty much how long it takes before you start yawning. The best thing that can be said about the movie is that individual scenes are well directed and worth experiencing. But that is the real problem here - the film is constructed as a series of impressive "experiences" rather than cohesive piece of drama (And this particular historical event is almost uniquely stuffed with dramatic opportunities. It's almost as if golden-age Hollywood writers wrote the script for the actual event.) In other words, it's a Dunkirk theme park rather than a movie. You take rides. And that's it. And even those become repetitive after a while.
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