I knew this Christopher Nolan picture would be technically excellent and, also, I knew I would be pretty “meh” about it. So, yeah, expectations met. It’s not quite a Scorsese thing, as I never get more than “meh” about Scorsese, and I really like Memento, as most people seem to. My favorite Nolan film, though, is Insomnia and most people don’t think that’s one of his best. I think it really captures sleep deprivation, though.
Which, upon reflection, may seem like an odd recommendation if you don’t know The Enigma.
Anyway, Dunkirk is the story of the evacuation of the British (and a little bit of the French) army from a disastrous invasion from the city of Dunkirk, which is about midway between Calais (where you’d land if you were trying to swim the channel) and Bruges (where you’d land if you were an Englishman on holiday). I’m going to pause for a moment to point out the oddity of western (and these days western-influenced) culture’s near pornographic love of failure and low points in one’s own society, because this is a movie that truly revels in a low moment.
I mean, spoiler alert: The British do win the war, though you’d never know it from this.
But that’s a bit of a cavil, like the people arguing that it doesn’t show the heroism of all the NON-English troops. Well, no. It’s just a movie, not a historical document, and in danger of seeming a bit unfocused at an under 2 hours runtime. It didn’t need to be longer or have more perspectives.
Another point which seems both weirder and less of a cavil: You’d never know they were fighting the Germans. That’s a little…odd. I know Hollywood does things to protect the sensitivities of the Chinese, a massive market which is the logical hyper-endpoint of political correctness, but I think the Germans know what’s what. We see all these movies from Germany about their role in WWII, and they make a bunch of documentaries, too. They self-flagellate like every other Western culture.
Anyway, the story focuses on three basic storylines…no four, four basic story lines: A British solder attempting to get off Dunkirk, one ship that was part of the impromptu navy of British citizens dispatched to rescue soldiers, one or more fighter pilots who are providing cover for the ships (which are being bombed by the Luftwaffe—er, enemy planes), and a captain who’s landed on the beach to oversee the evacuation.
All of these people are completely indistinguishable from each other, physically.
I kid. But not much. And I was forewarned by my folks who saw this before me: You get a bunch of pasty Saxons together and damned if it’s not hard to tell them apart. So, mostly I did okay because I was really on the lookout for unusual characteristics: A Gallic nose, a high forehead, stuff like that. Even so, there’s a medium-shot about halfway in where I have no idea who’s who, or what they’re saying.
The dialogue was tough to parse: There isn’t that much of it, really, which means when people do suddenly start talking after an action sequence, your ears have to adjust to the (presumably appropriately thick) accents. And then they’re talking WWII slang. This didn’t really bother me. It’s not a dialogue movie.
Kenneth Branagh played the captain, so he was pretty identifiable. Cillian Murphy is easy to spot, generally. The guys on the ship tend to be easy to recognize because they’re on a fishing ship and too young/too old to be soldiers. Also, the one blonde is on the ship. The pilots? Forget about it. They’re wearing face masks most of the time. At the end, I had to laugh because the one pilot we may or may not have been following throughout the film was Tom Hardy.
I couldn’t really follow the pilot thing. In the beginning there are three planes. One just vanishes. The other is shot down and, I think, the pilot is picked up by our fishing boat heroes. The last one is defending the beach from the (admittedly rather desultory) air rads from the Germans. The Boy lit upon that rather half-hearted attempt by the Germans to wipe out the troops from the air. The raids would come in ones and twos, never an all-out attack. We still don’t know if that was based on reality or not. (It may have involved the aforementioned French and Belgian efforts not shown in the movie.)
I didn’t realize it until halfway through the movie but the three threads are, literally, three different stories happening at different times that also happen to intersect occasionally. I did not care for that at all. One storyline has it night. Then another has it day. (The pilot stuff was all day, I think.) Then we switch back to the night storyline. But then it’s clear from the next cut we’re just seeing things out of time sequence.
Really, I liked Memento but enough. Tell a story in order for once, ya hack!
I kid. Nolan’s a genius. Ask anyone.
Anyway, The Boy liked it more than I did, but not that much more. I didn’t hate it or anything, for all my griping. Maybe if I were smarter I could enjoy Nolan’s films more. Or if I watched them multiple times. I don’t know.
My WWII expert tells me that the accuracy of the film is pretty dead on, except (and this bugged him, natch) for the train shot at the end. It was a modern train, apparently. (Others disagree about the accuracy. When I get around to studying it, I’ll read a book.)
I dunno. We all gots issues.