I saw Dunkirk over the weekend and thought it was worth all the hype surrounding it. It was nearly nonstop action and when it was done, I was so tense I felt like I had just driven four hours through a white-out rainstorm on the highway. Afterwards, I read the reviews on IMDB, where there are a lot of cinematic complaints/comments, but also an equally number of useful historical complaints/comments which I find to be informative.
The cinematography was beautiful and stark. There was surprising emotion: I didn’t know I was that invested, I’m not crying you’re crying. You see men in the throes of hope and futility at the same time. It’s all so British. And poignant. And depressing. And triumphant. And beautiful. And tragic.
(Quick note: I was relatively impervious to the hype, as my WW2 film repertoire consists solely of Monuments Men, Fury, Inglorious Basterds -which made no sense- and White Christmas, which is more of a holiday thing than war film. My repertoire lacks the usual suspects of Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Schindler’s List, etc, etc.)
There are spoilers under the cut so take fair warning.
Things I liked:
For the most part, I liked the spliced timelines. It made more sense in the latter half of the film as events in all timelines started lining up. All the stories were completely separate and yet connected.
I liked the casting. I heard the director cast young, unknown actors for the most part to mimic the relative youth of the British Army. There was a visible age gap between the soldiers and the officers in the film.
I had heard Harry Styles was cast and that his character was a jerk. I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, but since I think he used to be in a boy band, this was a *superb* professional choice.
That there was no tangible enemy.
Some of the IMDB reviews complained about lack of a central character. I actually liked that. It gave the film a very primal feeling and took away the romanticism of war films. Y’know, the coming together as a team with triumphant music to win the day? None of that. The closest thing there was happened between Kenneth Branagh’s Commander and James Darcy’s Colonel. Even then, that moment was very much business as usual, not a huge statement on the brotherhood of soldiery. Approve.
That the group that got trapped in the Dutch boat took that primal feeling and went near full-on Lord of the Flies. This film was not psychological in the way that Castaway was, but it had its moments, like the man committing suicide in the ocean or the every-man-for-himself chaos when the enemy comes.
Lack of special effects. The filming techniques. Made it seem grittier, more authentic, more substantial.
The aerial battles. Like how I enjoyed seeing how a tank’s firing process in Fury, I enjoyed seeing the flight tactics here. I noted the components of the RAF’s flight gear.
I made note of the women who appeared. While fewer in number, their roles were no less important.
The idea of the British home fleet, or whatever the civilian boats acquisitioned by the Royal Navy is called. It’s brilliant! While the cinematic version had maybe 10 boats, I was also equally impressed by the existence of authentic WW2 civilian boats that the producers managed to find to include in the film.
That, when credits roll, we learn the main character-the boy we’ve been following the whole film-we learn that his name is Tommy. So apropos. Tommy is the generic name for a British soldier, like Johnny Reb, Billy Yank, or Fritz.
As soon as the British soldiers were rescued, they were handed cups of tea, or the kettle was passed around. SO British I love it.
Things I was unsure of:
The spliced timelines were really confusing at the beginning. Perhaps seeing it a second time will make more sense.
That final scene of the pilot’s safe landing on an empty beach. Where did everyone go? How could he have stayed airborne for hours with no fuel?
What happened to everyone in the town, holding off the enemy advance?
Was it just the British on the beach? Where were the French and Belgians(?) hiding? What happened to the French who were trying to board at the beginning? I doubt each nation waited quietly for their turn to evacuate.
The IMDB comments complained about the lack of scale of the original evacuation. There had been nearly 400,000 men while the film showed barely a fraction of that. Maybe the film had been scaled down to not become overwhelming? It didn’t bother me too much, but I’m trying to imagine the scope of this film, but at ten times the scale.
I am not sure exactly what role George’s character contributed, unless it was supposed to give us (the audience) a death of someone we genuinely cared about?
There definitely should have been more air force. One little plane isn’t going to protect a whole beach from both land and sea attacks.
Where did the officers go to sleep? I don’t think the Commander spent a week standing on the pier?
If the men on the beach were waiting a whole week, why were they all clean shaven by the end … ? That, more than anything, might have helped convey the timelines better …
The details were spot on and I really enjoyed noticing them, from the British version of dog tags to the RAF flight suit to the hobnails. The story was straightforward and while the editing could have probably been a little smoother, to me it evoked a sense of the chaos of war at a macro, institutional level. The editing was a unique touch on what could be another routine WW2 story. I also rather liked the ambiguity of the end: You know who you want to win, but you’re not really sure who the bad guys are, or who the hero is. Overall, I’d give it 4/5 stars.
While searching for images for this entry, there are a lot of articles about the film’s production, its historicity, and the original event itself. It is quite heartwarming to see this film with entirely British cast about a wholly British event that has some impact on British identity. I’m trying to think of an American equivalent and am coming up short on ideas.
On filming the aerial scenes: http://www.warbirdsnews.com/warbirds-news/dunkirk.html
On the Little Ships: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/dunkirk-little-ships-bought-soldiers-home-inspired-film/
On the event: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3706936/dunkirk-battle-evacuation-soldiers-movie-release-date/