Dunkirk was a brilliantly haunting war film, detailing the harrowing reality of the WW2 Dunkirk evacuations. Whilst arguably slow at times, this new 2017 film carefully constructs a glimpse of what it would be like to be stuck on that fateful beach. With the clock frantically ticking throughout, this film shows the experiences of the men on the ground, Brits in their fishing boats and Spitfire pilots in the air.
Dunkirk was a real spectacle, with swooping screen shots and extremely immersive scenes. I particularly liked the opening. With soldiers escaping the advance of the enemy in the streets, we first set eyes on the beaches of Dunkirk in the same way as the fleeing soldiers would have. The first swoop of the German planes was so deafening it was unsettling – it really felt like you were there.
For a war film, Dunkirk wasn’t gruesome, exaggerated or blown out of proportion at all. War films often focus on finding the glory within a war, but this dwelled on the hopeless and empty nature of the scenes unfolding. After seeing multiple chances of escaping torn away from desperate soldiers was enough to pull in my sympathy. Nolan ensured that the horror of war came from a chilling atmosphere not needlessly big explosions and bombs.
Character Investment in Dunkirk
The dialogue and characterisation were simple, as the majority of the film was dedicated to the event, not the individual characters. If you check out the Dunkirk IMDb page, you’ll see that only a smattering of characters have names, and the rest are only referred to as their titles. This kind of felt right, and was made even more poignant by the fact that names such as Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Harry Styles weren’t main roles or heroic leads, but just another face in the 400,000-strong crowd.
However, whilst the film rightfully focused on the horrific nature of the event, it did seem unsure about how far we should be pushed to be emotionally invested in these characters. It made a change to have every individual’s life histories spelt out to us, and there wasn’t a crumpled picture of home or a letter from the wife in sight. I think a little glimpse of humanity wouldn’t have gone amiss, and with the focus on a smaller group of individuals, I feel the film wanted to give us more insight, but never quite got there.
If anything, we were made to feel most sympathetic to George, a young lad on a fishing boat headed to Dunkirk. WIth no aspirations or achievements to his name, his unfortunate death was the only thing heavily dwelled upon. Yes, it was sad of course, but it just felt a little jarring considering the number of lives being lost a couple hundred of miles away on the beaches of Dunkirk. Whether Nolan was trying to show something here or not, I don’t know, it just felt a little out of place.
- It was pretty impressive that Nolan insisted on not using CGI for the planes and vehicles used in Dunkirk. It really helped to encapsulate the experience. I thought the scenes in the air were pretty awesome, and although the fate of Tom Hardy’s character felt a little drawn-out, I’d say the RAF scenes were some of the film’s best.
- There was a very ‘Nolan’ time jump during the film started to flit between night and day. Yes, it allowed some of the characters to meet, but it did feel a little unnecessary. It didn’t confuse things at all, but I’d have much rathered that things stay chronological.
- Spoilers, but I did enjoy the ending and seeing some of the soldiers make it home. I did feel that whole situation of Styles’ character and the blind old man not looking him in the eye felt a little heavy handed. But I suppose they wanted to make more of them reading the Churchill speech out of the paper and to receive cheers from those waiting on the platform.
In my head, I gave Dunkirk an 8/10. It was pretty good and aptly documented a very poignant wartime experience. It lost two points for arguably being a little slow at times, and perhaps being unsure of how it should deal with ‘characters in a historical event’ situation. However, if you get the chance, make sure to go and see in the cinema, Dunkirk is not a film to be missed!
Great review! This was definitely one to catch in theaters, due to the way it made you feel like you were really part of the action. Those RAF dogfights were super intense!