‘Dunkirk’ a thrilling war flick, falls flat

Brian Lang

Mark Rylance and Barry Keoghan in Dunkirk (2017). Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon.
Brian Lang

There comes a time in every serious director’s career to produce a war movie. Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film “Dunkirk” is an ode to the heroism and bravery of soldiers throughout some of the darkest days in Britain’s history. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Harry Styles, “Dunkirk” is a tense film that leaves audiences dazed by the terror of World War II.

“Dunkirk” is set in the aftermath of a devastating German blitz along the French-Belgian border, which forced British, French, and Belgian troops to evacuate to the French port of Dunkirk. However, this stretch of beach was too shallow for ships to pick up troops, ultimately stranding over 300,000 soldiers on an open beach. With the help of around 850 British civilian boats, called “little ships,” the shell-shocked soldiers were successfully evacuated.

Nolan tells this epic in three simultaneous timelines. He spends a week on the beach, nicknamed “the mole,” a day with a rescue boat, and an hour in the air with a fighter pilot. These stories are woven separately through the fabric of the narrative but align at the end, retelling the awe-inspiring allied victory.

“Dunkirk” is a cinematographic masterpiece. Originally shot in 70mm IMAX, it is a gargantuan piece of work. I truly felt like I was one of the countless soldiers trapped on that beach, praying for deliverance and fighting for survival. Nolan’s choice to throw the audience into the midst of a defeated and terrified crowd of soldiers instead of a more traditional approach, such as last year’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” leads to a more meaningful look at the horrors of war.

No specific actor stands out in Dunkirk. Even the pop icon himself Harry Styles seamlessly blends with the pale, dark-haired, young boys around him. Instead, this faceless mass becomes a character itself as thousands of soldiers simultaneously duck for cover waiting for hundreds of civilians to rescue them.

While “Dunkirk” has received lots of praise, it does have its flaws. Nolan’s triple storyline is a great idea, but poorly executed. I was left confused about the timing of different scenes and would have to rewatch this film to put them in their place. Whenever the immediate tension wears off, this film becomes boring, and the muted color palette and a dearth of distinguishable characters certainly don’t help. Even though this film is one of Nolan’s shorter works, it seems to drag in the middle.

Dunkirk’s unusual summer release and lack of principal characters make it seem less award-hungry and more like a thrilling action movie. While it has amazing qualities, Dunkirk doesn’t hold a candle to some of the other Oscar contenders this year. Still, if you’re interested in World War II, or you just want to figure out what they’re talking about in “Darkest Hour,” there are worse things you can watch than “Dunkirk.”

Rating: 7/10