Wednesday, July 26, 2017
I did something I usually tend not to do anymore: went to see a movie by myself in a theatre. I have really been wanting to see the new war movie, Dunkirk, since the trailers came out around Christmas time last year, if memory serves. I like a good period film, and being a history major who took several courses on military history, the Miracle of Dunkirk has always been a particular interest to me personally.
Honestly, I don't know quite what to make of this film. It was not bad, but I would not necessarily say at this point that it was particularly good either. I got home and my wife asked about what the plot was. I had to think for a minute, and basically, this is what I could come up with, "It was about...a bunch of men standing in lines on a beach and getting evacuated. That's about it."
If you like edgy minimalism in a war film, you might like the film. It was not particularly violent, though there were some intense naval scenes. So, if you are expecting Saving Private Ryan D-Day Normandy invasion scenes, it is not nearly that intense.
The film was very Christopher Nolan-ish: thoughtful in a somewhat dark and foreboding almost Hitchcockian way with a strong or compelling though not epic finish, but with a lot of rough edges that ended up detracting from the film. Nolan, for those who are not familiar with his movies, is most known for the Dark Knight Batman prequel films and Interstellar. All of which I have generally liked, which is surprising as I usually detest comic book movies. All of those films tend toward what I call brillasperating: half brilliant and half exasperating. The Batman prequels are otherwise excellently filmed (I even own two on DVD, a rarity for me), in spite of Christian Bale's softspokenly bizarre portrayal of Batman with a whacked out, fake accent that was extremely distracting.
Interstellar had one of the best first halves (I will be generous and even go so far as to say best two-thirds) in a science fiction film I have seen in a long time: an Okie Dust Bowl set in the future because Earth is dying from a plant virus that is killing all the crops because it feeds on nitrogen and not oxygen. There was a lot there, and it was very well portrayed to keep one off balance. But, the ending was just horrendously bizarre exercise in quantum mechanics which I did not think made any sense, but it pulled it out of the fire at the last minute to salvage the film's plot, though by that point the damage had been done.
In Dunkirk, I did not much care for the fact that virtually none of the major characters, aside from the older man in the fishing boat and his son, seemed to have any names or back stories. Even then, we did not learn anything about the man in the boat or his son until the last 10 minutes of the film, and even then, it was piecemeal. Obviously, they were British, but it was hard to feel a connection to many of the characters who largely seem to have no name or back story.
In terms of historical accuracy, the movie seems a bit off. Some of the guns and ammo clips were not right. Things like that seemed to add up, but nothing was wholly anachronistic. The whole Royal Air Force seeming to have air supremacy was completely inaccurate. The final scene where the RAF pilot runs out of gas and somehow seems to continue to fly in the air and making several passes on the beach with no functional propeller for what seems like the last 20 minutes of the movie seemed implausible. Dramatic, yes. I give some leeway for cinematic license, but that was just hard to swallow.
The last 5 minutes or so of the film is worth the price of admission. It ends strong, and you get a sense of the fact that it was truly amazing that a rag tag group of civilian fishing ships was largely able to evacuate nearly all of Britain's standing army at the time, almost all of whom lived to fight another day. If Hitler could have crushed the British expeditionary force on the beach of Dunkirk instead of dallying around for his tanks and whatnot to get fixed up and mass, Britain might have been dealt a crippling blow. But, such as it was, Hitler missed the golden opportunity to take out Britain's main army.
I think the film would have done better to have some back story on some of the major characters. If only a short gab session amongst the soldiers as to where they were from or who they were or something. You never really even see any Nazi soldiers either except at the very end, which I found strange. You saw enemy planes, but no enemies. This also seemed a bit off. Again, very Christopher Nolan minimalist. You wanted to get to know the characters better, and you were just never given that opportunity. So, the credits rolled at the end, and I walked out going, "Dunkirk: 2 hours of men I still don't know, standing on a beach or treading water in the ocean."
Uplifting at the end with some good flyover scenes, but overall somewhat disappointing. It is still better than some of the war movies of recent years though. I will give it that. The movie's heart was in the right place.
It is worth seeing, but I think it can wait until it comes out on DVD or live streaming somewhere.