An homage to the quiet bravery of ordinary people, this view of a remarkable real-life event is more survival adventure than war movie. Dunkirk assaults the senses but only occasionally tugs at the heartstrings. It’s appealing without being epic, admirable but not quite amazing. 3.5 out of 5.
1940: France. Allied forces are surrounded by Hitler’s troops on all sides but one. Unfortunately, that last side is the English Channel. There were 400,000 men to evacuate, not nearly enough ships to do the job, and the German army was closing in fast. It was a desperate time that called for desperate measures. What happened next is the stuff of legend—and it really happened. Dunkirk gives us a view of the amazing rescue from the beach, the air, and the sea.
Mr. Dawson and his little crew. If you were in distress, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) is the man you want to rescue you: quietly determined, unflappable in the face of danger, with a gentle spirit and a kind heart. He and the boys on his boat are as much heroes as the men fighting in the trenches.
There’s a lot more “show” than “tell” in Dunkirk. It helps that the cinematography was pretty spectacular; you might get a touch of motion sickness when doing aerial acrobatics to target or avoid German planes. Minutes go by with no dialogue; it’s not needed. Case in point: pilots Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farrier (Tom Hardy) don’t exchange many words but their actions speak volumes about the brave lads who looked death in the face and just got on with it.
SEE ALSO: The Miracle at Dunkirk
Titles printed across the screen to identify the settings of three major storylines are unnecessary and confusing. Viewers unfamiliar with Dunkirk’s geography (as I was) should know the “Mole” referred to in #1 is not a) an embedded spy, or b) a small underground-dwelling animal. The Mole in question was “a long stone and wooden jetty” (thank you, BBC) where ships docked to pick up soldiers. Number 2 and 3 refer to the air and sea, which is so obvious there’s no need to spell it out.
The grand scale of the story put things in perspective but made it difficult to get really attached to most of the characters (Mr. Dawson being an exception). The timeline is a bit jumbled, too; events on the beach covered more hours than the boat’s journey which was in turn slower than the fighter pilots’ flight, but all seem to take place in the same space and time. It’s not a major flaw, just one of those things that make you go “hmmm.”
It may have been just my theater, but Dunkirk is loud. Painfully loud. As in the audience had their fingers in their ears loud. Granted: bombs, grenades, machine guns, and open-cockpit airplanes are high-decibel experiences but there’s no need to deafen moviegoers to prove that point. If your hearing is at all sensitive, better take earplugs as a precaution.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
While some characters displayed less admirable character traits (fear, selfishness), many were prepared to sacrifice themselves for others. Perhaps the most notable spiritual attribute of the story was grace: A man who caused a death was offered grace by the victim’s friends. The soldiers who made it home felt like failures but were extended grace by those who met them with cheers, blankets, and bottles of beer. In a time when the world was crumbling and defeat seemed imminent, grace was a choice made by many. Would that we could follow their example today.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense war experience and some language
- Language/Profanity: Surprisingly little for a story of this kind; a couple of f-bombs and an exclamation of “Christ.”
- Sexuality/Nudity: No sex or nudity. A soldier is shown squatting to relieve himself but we don’t see anything.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: It’s war, with all the bombing, shooting, fighting, danger, and death that implies. However, it’s not as gory as it might be. The camera doesn’t linger on the wounded or dead and very little blood is actually shown.
Drugs/Alcohol: Men are seen having a celebratory drink.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone interested in WWII or war stories in general; Brits and anglophiles; history buffs.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Viewers who think no movie is complete without romance; anyone suffering from PTSD (the sights and sounds might be too much).
Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan, opens in theaters July 21, 2017. It runs 106 minutes and stars Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, James D’Arcy and Fionn Whitehead. Watch the trailer for Dunkirk here.
Susan Ellingburg spends most days helping to create amazing live events and most nights at the movies, at rehearsals, or performing with vocal ensembles in the Dallas area. This leaves very little time for cleaning house. A natural-born Texan, Susan loves all things British, Sunday afternoon naps, cozy mysteries, traveling with friends, and cooking like a Food Network star (minus the camera crew).
Publication date: July 19, 2017
Image courtesy: ©WarnerBros.