Dunkirk is a war film written and directed by Christopher Nolan and features an ensemble cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles (Yes, that Harry Styles), Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy. The film is set during World War II (WW2) and focuses on the Dunkirk Evacuation of 1940. The story is told from three different perspectives (Land, Sea and Air) which are interwoven in a non-linear narrative.
My Knowledge and Expectation of Dunkirk
Dunkirk has been one of my most anticipated films of the year and the sole reason why this was the case was because of Christopher Nolan. In my opinion, he is the greatest director working in the film industry today. Additionally, he is cementing his legacy as being one of the greatest directors of all time. Certainly, I regard Inception as one of, if not the greatest film made so far in the 21st century. I believe that The Dark Knight is the best superhero film ever made and that The Dark Knight Trilogy is one of the best trilogies of all time. Other films by Christopher Nolan such as Interstellar and The Prestige are also fantastic films.
For me, Nolan has not made a bad film. Even his weakest film, which I believe is Insomnia, is still a good film. All of this set the bar very high for Dunkirk, especially when we look at the cast involved. Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy have worked with Nolan before and have given great performances when they have. I was interested to see what Mark Rylance would bring to Dunkirk because he was my favourite part of Bridge of Spies and I was hoping that Harry Styles would not take me out of the film. Any film about WW2 is going to garner my attention, but Christopher Nolan directing a WW2 film was salivating. I could not wait to see Dunkirk.
My Thoughts on Dunkirk
I liked Dunkirk. While I feel that Christopher Nolan has made much better films, Dunkirk is good. One of the best aspects of this film is the score. Once again, Hans Zimmer delivers and gives us a brilliant score that successfully builds tension and seamlessly blends into the pacing and sound of the film. The sound of Dunkirk was also something to behold, especially if you see this film in IMAX like I did. Whether it was gunfire, the sound of aircraft or the impact of a bullet, the sound was bombastic and very authentic. It really improved my viewing experience.
Dunkirk also got progressively better with each act. Everything in the film built to an ending which I loved. I felt that the ending was such a beautiful way to conclude a film which focused on a situation in WW2 that was so devoid of hope and full of suffering and despair. I left Dunkirk feeling hopeful and inspired about how the acts of civilians saved so many lives. Additionally, I appreciated how the progression of the film’s narrative was paced very well.
My favourite characters in Dunkirk were played by Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh. However, therein lies one of my issues with this film; I cannot remember the names of these characters. Indeed, the way Dunkirk was made and structured left me struggling to connect to the characters in this film. However, this was not as big as an issue as it was for others because I understood Nolan’s decision to focus more on the situation rather than specific people involved in this event.
However, a decision that I cannot understand and prevents this film from ranking amongst the best Nolan films and best war films was to make Dunkirk 12A/PG-13. Dunkirk is a war film. Now, I have never been involved in a war or combat and I hope I never will. However, as someone who has studied history and someone who has read/watched plenty of first-hand accounts of various modern wars and conflicts I am quite confident in making this statement; War is not 12A/PG-13.
For me, some of the best films about warfare such as Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge and We Were Soldiers portrayed war in its most realistic and truthful form. Those films were brutal, gritty and uncompromising in their depiction of war. Because of this, any film that is below the standard established by the films that I mentioned above means that I struggle to emotionally connect to the situation and the characters.
Unfortunately, the inability of Dunkirk to give us a graphic depiction of this pivotal event in WW2 prevented me from loving the film. The use of practical effects and certain moments did give the film some realism and brutality. Yet, I just felt that this film was watered down to appeal to a wider audience instead of being faithful to the nature of this event. Still, not everyone will agree with my views on this particular matter. More importantly, the good in this film outweighs the bad. While Nolan has made better films, Dunkirk is worth seeing and it could rank higher for me after repeat viewings.