Ever since the end of the second world war, the phrase 'Dunkirk spirit' has been used in Britain to describe courage and solidarity in times of adversity. However, this film chooses to focus on a young soldier who tries every underhand trick he can think of to get on board the rescue vessels ahead of everyone else. Where's the bravery or self sacrifice in that? Instead of identifying with this "hero" I became increasingly angry with him and had nothing but contempt for his actions. Why not push in front of everyone else by pretending to be a medic? Why not pretend to be a survivor from a ship that's just been bombed and sunk? Not only do you get priority access to the next rescue boat but you get a hot drink, food and warmth before your comrades left behind on the beach. I was actually happy that every escape attempt failed for this character.
It wouldn't be so bad if there was some dialogue to help us identify with Tommy's fears or motivation but the first part of the film is played out in almost mute silence. A group of soldiers walk through Dunkirk without any conversation or discussion of their situation. Thousands of soldiers stand on the beach waiting for rescue with no-one apparently talking to each other. I'm sorry but this is just unrealistic. But then it's equally unrealistic for Tommy and his comrades to have walked through a clean and rather modern looking town of Dunkirk where there is no damage to any of the buildings, despite the fact that the enemy (don't mention the Germans) are attacking the place. Freshly swept roads, clean windows and picture perfect sandbags for the French army to hide behind - surely the filmmakers could have built a decent set to depict a war damaged section of town?
Christopher Nolan has said that he wanted to avoid CGI in this film and opt instead for a realistic approach. Okay, CGI has become all pervasive in modern films (and some of it is downright cheesy) but there's surely no reason why it couldn't have been used in this film to create the illusion of more soldiers on the beach or extra boats out at sea. Trying to depict such a large scale and epic event as Dunkirk in a realistic and authentic way is virtually impossible without using some CGI.
The cinematic device of three different story lines being told on three separate timescales just doesn't work in this movie. The constant jumping back and forth between the different threads leads to some jarring continuity effects. One minute the sky is overcast, the next it's clear and sunny. One moment it's nighttime, the next it's daytime. It's a shocking mess.
Halfway through the movie I found myself shifting around in my seat feeling increasingly irritated and it wasn't just the misadventures of our "hero". I realised it was the background music causing my discomfort; a relentless, monotonous assault on the ears. War might be hell but this soundtrack isn't far behind. When the small boats arrive at Dunkirk, a stirring rendition of 'Nimrod' from Elgar's 'Enigma' variations is played, albeit played at quarter speed. Is this really counted as being an original music score as stated in the credits? Sadly the answer appears to be yes because Elgar's music is no longer under copyright protection. The fact that somebody got credit for writing this particular section of "original" music is absolutely shameful.
The clichés: when Tom Hardy's pilot has a problem with his fuel gauge and has to start making manual calculations on what fuel he has left, what are the chances that he will actually run out of fuel before the film ends? Well knock me down with a feather! He's run out of fuel. Gosh, I never saw that plot twist coming
The young boy who jumps on the small boat at the last moment as it leaves England, not realising (in his naivety) that it could be a dangerous journey. What are the chances of him being badly injured or even dying? Oh look he's dead. Surprised? Well only by the manner of his death and the lack of concern from the skipper of the boat when told of what's happened.
What are the chances that our brave Spitfire pilot (who's just ditched in the sea) is going to be rescued from drowning at the very last second as the water laps over his head? What a cliffhanger! Our small boat gets there in the nick of time to save the day! On the edge of my seat and holding my breath with excitement? Er, no.
Then we have that ridiculous ending. After shooting down an enemy plane (don't mention the Germans) Tom Hardy runs out of fuel. In an outstanding display of flying skills, our pilot extraordinaire not only manages to glide his Spitfire up and down the beach a couple of times but shoots down a Stuka bomber in the process before making a picture perfect landing on the beach as the sun sets. Why bother landing on the beach? He could have flown back to England in time for tea and tiffin. As the sun goes down he destroys his aircraft so the enemy (please don't mention the Germans) can't get their hands on it. Quite frankly a crash landing would have been much more entertaining and an appropriate epitaph for this sorry farrago of a movie.