Hollywood’s long standing love affair with World War 2 is as old as the industry itself, hankering back to the ‘’good old days’’ when the good guys where the good guys and everybody knew who the bad guy was. WW2 movies often detail the personal struggles of the soldiers fighting in the war; such is the case of Dunkirk, Director Christopher Nolan brings to life the story of British troops evacuated from German occupied Europe.
The story begins with a troop of five being gunned down by German soldiers off-screen, as the last Brit, a Private named Tommy manages to escape and make his way to the barricades where French soldiers are holding off the Germans while the British troops prepare to board Destroyers to escape occupied Europe.
The story is told in three parts, from three different interconnected narratives, part one is the ‘’mole’’ where British troops are awaiting evacuation, part two ‘’the sea’’ where best friends Peter and George take Peter’s Father’s fishing boat and sail to Dunkirk to aid in the exodus, and part three ‘the air’’ showcasing three R.A.F. pilots as they patrol the skies over Dunkirk to protect them against Luftwaffe pilots.
This mosaic of storytelling can feel a bit lackadaisical in places as its jumping from morning to night to the middle of the day, focusing on a different narrative, but it does help paint a concise picture of just how perilous Dunkirk was, the R.A.F being ambushed by Luftwaffe at any time and soon the three are reduced to one, as Tom Hardy’s Captain Farrier is left to guard the skies above Dunkirk solo while he’s running low on fuel. Tommy and his troop getting on-board a Destroyer only to have it struck by a torpedo and then going down in a claustrophobic drowning scene. Peter and George pick up a shell shocked soldier played by Cillain Murphy, whom they lock up, only from him to escape and demand they turn around rather than return to Dunkirk, and when trying to wrest control of the helm, George gets pushed aside and is concussed, when all George ever wanted was to be useful.
Dunkirk is certainly ambitious it its scale and the pathos is genuine, but it feels not as epic as it ought to be. There are certainly very tense moments where they’re fighting for their lives and you do wonder who will survive in the end, but we’re not really emotionally invested in these characters. The dialogue is sparse and honestly it feels more like watching human shaped props that are meant to serve as some purveyor of tragedy, but with no real autonomy to themselves. I don’t mean to sound like I’m hating on this, is just the impression I got from watching it, I like to believe Christopher Nolan is a better director than that, because he is, and like I said there is genuine pathos, in fact the most rousing moment is where all the civilian boats come across the channel, luxury yachts, fishing boats to the rescue, and you really feel for the weary soldiers. It doesn’t end on a happy note of course, there is still a war to fight but at least the story ends with Tommy reading Churchill’s ‘’we will fight them’’ speech in the newspaper after he returns home, so out of respect for all the men at Dunkirk, who am I to nitpick?
(Bet if Aquaman showed up at Dunkirk nobody would make jokes about him being lame ever).
By Daniel Murphy