Dunkirk tells the true story of the evacuation of allied soldiers stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, France during World War II. The film stars Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy and is directed by Christopher Nolan (Insomnia, The Dark Knight, Inception).
My Thoughts On The Characters And Story
Let me share a personal tidbit about myself: one of my biggest fears is the prospect of being placed in the deep sea to which I will drown almost instantaneously because I can’t swim and large bodies of water freak me out. There are certain moments throughout Dunkirk where many characters are jumping ship or are faced with the task of attempting to stay afloat when nothing is under them and I truly felt a sense of unease during it. There are a handful of sequences director Christopher Nolan manages to execute extremely well where you’re placed squarely in the shoes of the soldiers as torpedoes are being shot at them and bullets are piercing through whatever form of refuge they’re in. Everything occurring prior to these sequences, unfortunately, are rather a slog to get through. By no means am I advocating for mindless action droning on or disgustingly brutal violence to get my goat going, however when you catch yourself wondering when the next set piece will occur rather than remaining enthralled with the characters on screen, this is somewhat of an issue.
As Dunkirk features as ensemble cast, there were only a few who I believe were the true standouts – Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy (the second husband in my dreams behind my everlasting love, Matt Damon). These three and their stories were the ones I was most intrigued with and I honestly would’ve been fine with watching a separate version of the film solely based on the experiences of their characters. Harry Styles certainly surprised me as the film progressed and his character was given much more to work with. Murphy and Rylance’s chemistry was immediate with the former giving an incredible portrayal of a soldier with clear signs of PTSD (Murphy heavily researched on the then-unnamed disease and it definitely shows on screen). And, of course, there’s Tom Hardy… Is there any role that man can’t do? What he manages to convey with a simple frustrated glance is a talent I will forever be dumbfounded by.
The other members of the cast certainly gave serviceable performances. As we weren’t given much to learn about their characters, there simply wasn’t enough to grow an emotional attachment with which is obviously not to suggest that I didn’t care for their unimaginable plight. I actually found myself feeling more connected to the extras like the injured and poor doomed nurses! SPOILER When that one nurse was distributing blankets and referred to one of the soldiers as “love”, I felt a pang in my stomach that this woman will probably die. END SPOILER Those little personality subtleties can go a ridiculously long way and although I didn’t hate any of the main cast, unlike the aforementioned Big Three, their respective characterizations could’ve been handled much better.
Nolan has let it be known that he aimed for the PG-13 rating for Dunkirk as he strove to depict a “survival story” that focuses on the suspenseful components of the work rather than the “bloody aspects of combat.” While this is an admirable goal and one that someone of Nolan’s calibre should be able to accomplish, combining the lack of care for these characters and the sanitized violence makes the film feel rather lackluster.
I don’t need a hand-holding kumbaya to feel anything for Fionn Whitehead’s character, however if we’re going to be focused on these individuals for the duration of the run time, I want to see the appallingly horrendous conditions the real life soldiers experienced. I want to feel the grime on my hands and the sweat on my forehead. Nolan has also stated that he didn’t want the film to be “bogged down in the politics of the situation” which is all well and good, unfortunately any form of context was rarely given at all so we were left with higher-ups discussing various plans I could only decipher bits and pieces of. Don’t spoon feed me but damn it, don’t make me construct the spoon.
Imagine what could’ve been had Dunkirk tracked the nine psychologically grueling days these soldiers experienced through the vision of an R-rated Christopher Nolan.
How Were The Other Aspects Of Dunkirk?
The technical components of Dunkirk are phenomenal. There is no two ways about it, from the opening sequence to the conclusion, the sound design and editing are at the top of their game – particularly the sound. You truly feel your stomach growing weary as the bomber jets are approaching and there is nowhere to hide. That opening was incredibly well done, the not knowing affected me the most as you’re aware of imminent danger yet you’re essentially handcuffed until you find some semblance of a sanctuary.
Lest we forget that sound of Nolan’s ticking pocket watch mixed and synthesized via the genius mind of his frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar) which ties the film beautifully together.
If you’re a fan of Christopher Nolan, you’ve probably watched this film already. If you’re looking for an impactful ride regardless of who is depicted on screen and interested in an event not nearly enough people know about, check out Dunkirk.
Dunkirk receives 3/5 Matt Damon heads.