Though only one generation ago, the sacrifices of World War II are often forgotten in modern society. People lean less upon the lessons of history and more upon and latest pop culture nuance or trend. And I can easily fall victim to the next shiny object, just like everyone else, but once and a while an event comes along to remind us of the past. I wanted Dunkirk to be that nudge for 2017 — sadly, the film fell dramatically short.
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan (of Dark Knight fame), the film documents the plight of the British Expeditionary Force trapped in the French town of Dunkirk, caught between the might of the German army and the unrelenting misery of the English channel. Make no mistake, Dunkirk actually happened in 1940 and was the rallying cry during the D-Day invasions some five years later.
Nolan attempts to tell the story of tragedy then triumph but fails to deliver on a massive scale. Though there are many sins in the Dunkirk narrative, one of the greatest falls within the realm of character development or depth. Nolan does not allow the audience the luxury of connecting with any character nor does he craft a plot with any weight — beyond simple, brutal survival. Furthermore, the film is badly discordant in its narrative — jumping from one scene to the next in quick succession. One moment you’re on the beach, then a boat at sea, then a fighter aircraft, and once more back to the beach — but back in time four hours, or was it forward? The frequent shifts left me puzzled at why we’d jumped just when I was beginning to invest in the prior scene.
Beyond the discordant plot, the music of the film (it’s a stretch to call the film’s score, “music”) is easily its most annoying element. Think of any film you’ve watched with an impending scene of suspense; the music builds with a something’s-about-to-happen tone then at some point there is a reveal. The music in Dunkirk is almost two solid hours of suspenseful music with no finish. Think of the Jaws theme, just before the first attack, but for about two straight hours. Yeah, miserable. Perhaps it was the theater but that music drowned out much of the sparse dialogue.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent reproduction of the vintage aircraft and uniforms in Dunkirk — a single moment of brilliance in an otherwise tedious experience. Oh, and please don’t make me talk about the magical gliding Spitfire flown by the film’s only star of note, Tom Hardy. I’m still waiting for that thing to land… wait, what?!
With no plot to speak of, a nerve-grating musical score, and a characters you care little about, Dunkirk is a missed opportunity to tell a powerful story which continues to leave a mark on the French and English consciousness. Nolan fails in this telling and I’m confident I’ll never see nor recommend anyone take the time to watch this film. #CouldHaveBeenBetter