Monday, July 24, 2017

Dunkirk Movie Review: Fairly Good But There Are Other More Affecting War Movies We've Seen Before

 
DUNKIRK is a port city in France where British and other Allied troops were stranded as the Germans marched into France at the start of World War II. They’re trapped on the beach as sitting ducks while German planes hover over them. From May 26 to June 4, 1940, more than 300,000 soldiers had to be evacuated to England. A hastily assembled fleet of 800 boats, mostly privately owned, rescued the troops and what happened is now considered a miracle.

There have been many films about this historical event, like “Weekend at Dunkirk” in 1964 starring French actor Jean Paul Belmondo as a soldier trapped in Dunkirk. The Oscar-winning “Mrs. Miniver” and “This Above All”, both made in 1942, also touched on this, along with the more recent “Atonement” in 2008. But the one we remember the most is “Dunkirk” in 1958, with John Mills as a corporal leading infantrymen across France to Dunkirk and Richard Attenborough as a boatman who participates in the rescue.


Now comes Christopher Nolan, director of such films as “Memento”, “Interstellar”, “Dark Knight”, “Inception” making another “Dunkirk” movie as a grim reminder for us who live in complacency how harsh and harrowing war can be. His “Dunkirk” is unlike any of the other movies he has done before. There are three main stories followed and the respective time frames of each segment: The Mole, One Week (involving the soldiers awaiting evacuation), The Sea, One Day (showing a civilian who wants to help save lives using his own boat) and The Air, One Hour (focusing on a brave Royal Air Force pilot manning his plane.)

The movie drops you right into the middle of the action showing a young soldier, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), an infantryman who is running for dear life and dodging German snipers. He represents the ordinary soldier stuck on the beach. He later gets trapped with his fellow soldiers (Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles of One Direction) inside a sinking boat while they are looking for a ship that will take them to safety before the Germans get them.

Then there’s the patriotic British citizen, Dawson (Mark Rylance who won the Oscar for “Bridge of Spies”), who uses his own private boat to help rescue soldiers and take them across the English Channel, a 26-mile stretch of water. With him is his son (Tom Glynn Carney) and his son’s friend (Barry Keoghan.)

Last is the courageous British fighter pilot, Farrier (Tom Hardy), who engages the Nazi Luftwaffe to help save the lives of the defenseless soldiers exposed on the beach and the ships below. The aerial dogfights are fantastically staged on screen by Hoyte Van Hoytema’s dazzling cinematography.

The three stories have different time frames. Some happen in a day, some in a span of many days, but they all intertwine through extensive cross-cutting and paint a touching patriotic picture of what the survivors of Dunkirk went through. Aside from the aforementioned actors, the other characters who stand out are Kenneth Branagh and James D’Arcy as navy and army commanders, with Cillian Murphy as a nameless shell-shocked survivor rescued by Rylance who panics and accidentally kills one of the young boys in the boat.

Critics abroad are saying, this early, that this film is an Oscar-contender but we think it’s quite overrated. “Dunkirk” is okay, particularly its technical merits, but we can cite many other war films that are more emotionally powerful and have moved us better than this one, like “Bridge on the River Kwai”, “The Great Escape”, “The Longest Day”, “Three Came Home”, “Guadalcanal Diary”, “Paths of Glory” and “Platoon” are the ones that quickly come to mind.

One problem is that the film’s structure does not allow us to really get to relate much to most of the characters, with most of them treated as mere cannon fodder. Nolan made sure this is not a character-driven movie centered on particular actors who are not even given much dialogue, because he wants to paint a bigger canvas on screen and make it mainly a story of survival. The musical score by Hans Zimmer is also quite intrusive and refuses to keep quiet even at times when silence would be more effective.

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