This film almost needs no introduction, but here goes anyway: Christopher Nolan tells the story of the miracle at Dunkirk. With Allied forces encircled by the German army and not enough transports to move all the troops off the coast of France, over 400,000 troops are trapped on the beach between the ocean and the German army. The film is the story of how they survived, told in a nonlinear format from the perspective of soldiers on the beach, rescuers in their boat, and airmen defending the army from the skies.
This movie was everything I expected from watching the trailer–the word that kept coming to mind when I saw previews for it was “documentary.” Which isn’t a bad word, but not one I associate with Nolan. It looked like it would tell the story of Dunkirk in a dramatically real, documentary-like fashion.
That is what the movie did, and this is both good and bad. Nolan’s penchant for realism and big-screen cinema means that the dogfights are thrilling, the theater humming with the sound of the Rolls Royce Merlin engines that power the Spitfires.
It’s grand cinema, but it left me wanting something more, and not in an entirely good way. As a dramatic retelling of an important chapter in history, it is peerless. But it didn’t grip me as a story the way Saving Private Ryan did. Instead, it left me cold.
Which I feel bad to admit. While some people praised the nonlinear style of the film, I found it borderline gimmicky (i.e. “this story is a bit dull…hmm, I’ll just hide that by putting the scenes out of order!”) and found it difficult to connect with most of the characters. Of course, the RAF pilots were incredible, and I cheered along with everyone else at the heroism displayed in the film. Also, the film was well-acted. No question. But again, the film left me cold.
So that is my review. With a 93% critical approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, I know my opinion won’t be a popular one, but I foresee that Dunkirk will be remembered as a well-made, factual, realistic film that few will every want to watch more than once or twice.