Friday, January 19, 2018

Movie Review: Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk (2017) written and directed by Christopher Nolan

It's May, 1940, and the Germans are driving what's left of the Allied Forces in France to the English Channel. Hundreds of thousands of troops are pinned down waiting to evacuate to England. As they wait, the German land force presses closer. The German air force bombs and shoots whatever they can on the beach and also the large naval ships coming to the rescue. In a desperate attempt to bring back as many as possible, civilian vessels are used (whether the civilians will pilot them or not). This movie follows a few stories (one RAF fighter pilot, some of the Brits on the beach, and one of the civilian boats) to tell this tension-filled tale.

Nolan has a lot of experience telling stories out of order or in a mixed-up time sequence (cf. Memento, Inception, and Interstellar) to great effect. The stories here, which certainly could have been told in a strictly chronological narrative, are blended together in occasionally confusing ways. The stories overlap at various points, though sometimes it isn't clear that they really are overlapping (is that the same ship sinking that we saw earlier in a different story or not?). Such narrative shenanigans could be grating but they serve the larger story here--it wasn't just one RAF fighter squad fighting off all the Nazi bombers and fighters; it wasn't just one civilian boat that did its patriotic duty; it wasn't just a handful of soldiers on the beach who were panicked or crafty about escaping. The few faces we see are part of a larger, anonymous mass of people involved. A lot of little details are thrown in that help to paint the larger picture.

The heroism is inspiring. The conditions are very bad and few men succumb to shell shock and horror, but most keep the proverbial stiff upper lip. They look like real people who rise to the occasion. The evacuation is an amazing success.

The movie isn't perfect (less convincing moments do pop up here and there and poor Kenneth Branagh spends a lot of time staring at things off in the distance) but is an exciting experience and worth watching.


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