My son and I saw Dunkirk (2017) yesterday. I was looking forward to seeing it, but I am afraid I found it disappointing overall. My review is below the fold, and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect.
Let us start on a positive note: the special effects, both CGI and non CGI. were spectacular. The aerial and sea action scenes were especially well done, capturing well the chaos of war and the beauty of the ocean and the sky.
Like ancient Gaul, the film is divided into three parts. On land we follow two soldiers and their harrowing experiences attempting to be among those evacuated from Dunkirk. In the sky we join a flight of Spitfires flying to Dunkirk to give air support. On sea we observe a civilian craft sailing to Dunkirk to aid in the evacuation.
The land portion is the weakest. We have no scenes that tell us much about the soldiers, or events that make us care about their plight. They are indistinguishable from the other soldiers, all of whom wish to get out of Dunkirk and back to Britain.
In the sky there is exciting air combat, but we know nothing about the RAF pilots and they are not individuals to us.
The sea portion is the best, since we are able to observe at length the civilian crew: a father, his teenage son, and the teenage friend of the son who volunteers to come on their rescue mission, and they become individuals to us, at least compared to the other portrayals in the film.
The acting is weak. The best of a bad lot is Mark Rylance who portrays Mr. Dawson, the skipper of the civilian craft. Kenneth Branagh is the actor in the film most likely to be known to American audiences. However, his role is one step up from a cameo role and his screen time is very brief. Dialogue throughout the film is sparse, and due to background war noises it is sometimes difficult to hear what is being said. For American ears, the English accents sometime get in the way of being understood.
For a film about Dunkirk it really doesn’t tell us much about the event. As we were leaving the theater, an elderly woman asked me if the movie was based on history, and I assured her it was. I don’t expect a history lesson from a film, but the background information given by the film is truly minimal for a historical epic.
The film doesn’t have much period feel. I never thought to myself that I was watching events that accurately depicted this crucial event from 1940. Instead, it always seemed like a none too skillfully done twenty-first century look back in time, with explosions taking the place of insight.
One of the cardinal sins for me in regard to any film is if it bores me. To my dismay I did experience boredom several times in the film, something I have rarely experienced during a war picture.
The film does end on a high note with one of the soldiers reading the ringing words of Churchill:
Sadly, the above video clip has more entertainment value for me than the entire Dunkirk film. Save your money on this one.