DUNKIRK – Do Your Research Ahead of Time

2 ½ Stars

The movie “Dunkirk” is a bit confusing.  Unless you have read a Wikipedia explanation of the movie or listened to an interview by director Christopher Nolan, you might not understand what Nolan was trying to accomplish.

Few of us on this side of the pond are familiar with Dunkirk – not the battle – the evacuation.  During the early days of World War II, well before the Yanks entered the war, the British and other allied troops we driven to the northwest coast of France and were hanging on by a thread, pressed by the Germans following their loss in the Battle of France.

If you were listening closely to the dialogue – not easy for a Yank – you might have heard that there were 300,000 allied fighters who had to be evacuated.  But with the ships being assailed by German guns and torpedoes, and Churchill unwilling to send in many destroyers that he would need later to defend England, the troops were sitting ducks to be picked off.

The film proposes to parse the Dunkirk evacuation into three parts – land, sea and air.  But in the interest of time, all three are combined into perhaps three days – though the actual evacuation took eight days.  The confusion begins with a film caption “The Mole.”  Unless you happen to be a crossword fan, you could not begin to know what a “mole” is.  In fact, it is a massive structure, usually of stone, used as a pier, breakwater or causeway to separate two bodies of water.  As a consequence, when this caption appeared on the screen, the audience was rendered clueless – thus setting the tone for the rest of the movie, in my estimation.

The story of Dunkirk is less about the individual soldiers in the throes of the disaster, but more about the incredible rescue by more than 800 civilian boats that came to the rescue of the stranded forces.  Unfortunately, the film shows only a handful of these vessels, so it never occurs to you that there were so many of these vessels that were both conscripted by the Royal Navy and manned by civilian volunteers.

Further, the film seemed to imply that almost every evacuation ship provided by the British navy was sunk.  In fact, there were 39 British destroyers that were involved in the rescue.

Much has been made of the Hans Zimmer score and it does add excitement and a sense of urgency to the film.  To Zimmer’s credit, it is almost impossible to separate the score from the film itself.

This is probably a film you will want to see.  But for me it was a disappointment simply from the confusion Nolan created by his captions and the strange juxtaposition of all events seeming to occur at once.  While some critics have heralded this is the best war movie ever created, to my recollection there are so many others that surpass it: “Saving Private Ryan,” “Platoon,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “The Longest Day,” “The Great Escape,” “Hacksaw Ridge.”

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