Christopher Nolan makes quality films. Three-time Academy Award winner Dunkirk (2017) is the most recent example that I had the opportunity to screen with both pleasure and appreciation. With five other Oscar nominations to its credit, take this as evidence that the world is standing up and taking notice.
The Dunkirk Evacuation as a historic event reflects the evacuation of primarily the British Expeditionary Force, along with some intermingling of the other Allied troops, from the French seaport of Dunkirk (spelled Dunkerque in France) to England in May and June of 1940. At this point in the war, the United States was not supplying troops, sailors, airmen or other combat support. (The USA would become involved after the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor in December 1941).
Using his characteristically complex movie-telling style, Nolan tells three main stories intermingled with one another. Those three events included events the beaches of Dunkirk, the civilian fishing ships and ferries crossing the channel, and the Royal Air Force pilots of the United Kingdom battling the German Luftwaffe in the skies above and surrounding the seaport town of Dunkirk.
Largely using age appropriate actors to fill the ranks of the military branches represented in the film, the film is largely inhabited by actors that are lesser known. The most well-known actor in the lot is likely Kenneth Branagh, who besides playing Commander Bolton in Dunkirk has acted in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) and multiple productions based on the writings of William Shakepaere. Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, one of the small boat captains at the heart of Operation Dynamo,
The film Dunkirk itself depicts a handful of personal stories in near real time. The directorial aim for the aim certainly seemed to be showing the reality of being in this place at this time in history. At the real history as well as in the film, the German army had surrounded the Allied forces to the point of potential surrender. Large naval ships could not pull into the harbor for being drafting too deeply. Had the forces been unable to vacate the seaport, the tide of the war could have swung to an irrevocable Axis advantage.
The experience of the movie Dunkirk is much less about war than Saving Private Ryan (1998), Apoczlypse Now (1979), or Platoon (1986). Dunkirk is the ensemble experience of surviving a military disaster to fight another day. That so much of the force survives is part of what makes the story remarkable. That the movie is told with a largely male audience in mind is also, perhaps, what made the movie one without sufficient crossover appeal to be the Academy Award winner for Best Picture.
As the reviewer of the movie Dunkirk, it is confession worthy for myself that I originally saw this in a movie theater shortly after its release with a group of male friends. While we watched, the wives of the married folks in the group went shopping at the mall while waiting to join us for dinner. I had come from training earlier in the day. In another confession, I fell asleep in the theater. In watching the movie on Blu-Ray for this review, that disclosure probably isn’t fair to my level of enjoying the film.
My overall feeling is that the historical story of the Dunkirk Evacuation is worthy storytelling. My further belief is that the portrayal of said story in Dunkirk also passes muster if you are interested in larger projections of how history occurred. To me, that there wasn’t a love story attached to the telling is not fatal. If you would prefer that, then I might suggest seeing Pearl Harbor (2001) instead. My preference, given these two, is Dunkirk.
Matt – Saturday, March 10, 2018