Rating: 3 Stars
This is a hard film for me to rate.
The basic plot, in case you really need this to be spelled out to you, is about the WWII evacuation of Dunkirk after Hitler inexplicably halted his panzer advance just as the German army was about to push the British and French forces into the sea. There were some 300,000 British soldiers trapped on the beaches. Fearing a German invasion, the British did not want to risk their navy, so they marshaled an entire flotilla of small boats to come out and bring the soldiers back to England. In so doing, the British army was saved.
Clearly the evacuation of Dunkirk, from a historical perspective, was a huge undertaking. The film narrows its scope to land, sea, and air vignettes. The land part, which takes place over a week, concerns a soldier trapped on the beach trying to get home. The sea part, which takes place over a day, concerns an English civilian sailor that takes his boat to Dunkirk to rescue all of the soldiers that he can. The air part, which takes place over an hour, is three airmen that fly out to try to keep the skies clear of German fighters. The three stories are told in an inter-weaved, nonlinear manner,
First of all, I’m not sure if Christopher Nolan can make a bad film. I’ve seen all of his full length movies. Even the one that I liked least (I’m looking at your Interstellar), was thought provoking and visually appealing.
Dunkirk was certainly a panoramic film. I saw it in 70mm, which heightened this effect. Especially in the air part, you really get an idea of the vastness and the emptiness in which pilots have to operate. Also the theater I watched it had a state of the art sound system, so the sounds of war came through loud and clear.
The cast was also top notch. Any movie with Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, and Cillian Murphy is going to feature top tier acting.
As usual with Nolan, he handles time confusion masterfully. The three episodes, taking place over a week, a day, and an hour are effortlessly integrated together.
The film was beautiful. The acting was top notch. The plot was engaging. So, what was the problem? For some reason, the movie seemed to lack drama. I never really felt on the edge of my seat. There just didn’t seem to be much suspense in the little boat crossing the channel to pick up soldiers. The shell shocked soldier (Murphy) fighting the civilian captain Mr Dawson (Rylance) almost seemed to be a plot contrivance to add drama to the crossing. In all three sub-plots, there seemed to be an air of almost detachment that kept me from becoming completely engaged.
Maybe there was just a little bit too much British stiff upper lip to me. Hardy’s, Rylance’s, and Branagh’s characters all seemed to just calmly go about their duty. I never really sensed any conflict or fear or doubt in any of them. I know that the WWII British ethos was to Keep Calm and Carry On, but this just seemed to take this to extremes. Near the end of the movie, you hear that Mr Dawson very recently suffered a serious loss. The only reaction in the entire movie that you get of that pain is a slight grimace.
Because none of the leads seemed to show any concern regarding their well being, it in turn made it difficult for me to really feel engaged in the plot.