2 out of 4 stars
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone’s film critic, wrote that Dunkirk may be the greatest war movie ever made.
Caryn James of the BBC called it a “five star triumph.”
Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter said that director Christopher Nolan “has gotten everything just right.”
Lindsey Bahr of the Associated Press called Dunkirk a “stone cold masterpiece.”
But if you are looking for war movies lacking character development and action, then go see Dunkirk before jumping on its Oscar bandwagon that seems to be picking up steam with every reviewer.
As you watch the 104-minute film, ask yourself this: Are the battles on land better than the ones in Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge, We Were Soldiers, Platoon , Fury or Black Hawk Down?
Are the battles in the sky or on the water better than what you saw in Pearl Harbor or Red Tails?
Are the characters developed better in Dunkirk than in American Sniper, Full Metal Jacket, Unbreakable, or The Hurt Locker? When you leave the theater do you think you will be even be able to name three of the characters in Dunkirk?
Chances are you won’t – I asked 20 people the same question in the parking lot. Sure, they said the movie’s stars – namely Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Harry Styles and Fionn Whitehead – but when pressed to name the characters they played, they couldn’t.
But without question, Nolan’s cinematography is superior to perhaps every war movie, but overall, the film is by no means the best war movie ever made, not even close.
It was Nolan’s job to get the audience to care about the 400,000 British, French, Canadian and Belgian soldiers stranded on the beaches of a tiny French town called Dunkirk in 1940, a year before America entered World War II. They are out there in the open, waiting for a miracle or Hitler’s arsenal, which ever arrived first.
All that separates them from death is the 26-mile English Channel, and while they can see their homeland in the distance, the water is too shallow for large ships to get close enough to rescue them.
Which begs this question: If the German Army was so powerful it backed the troops to edge of the sea, why didn’t it finish them off? Why didn’t they send more than a few planes to pepper the beach with bombs?
Now, ask yourself this when you exit the film: Why were there so few German soldiers in the film that you could count them on one hand?
And ask yourself this: If you were on that beach, knowing death was less than a block away – the Germans easily could have opened machine gun fire and lobbed grenades while bunkered in the abandoned buildings overlooking the beach — wouldn’t you pray or at least look at a picture of a loved one?
In Dunkirk, the soldiers just stand there like statues. There are no conversations about death, no back stories, nothing – nothing that helps develop them as characters, nothing that makes the audience bond with them.
In Fury, Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge and other notable war films, the audience learns to ultimately see the soldiers as men, fathers and husbands instead of killing machines. That’s what made the audience really care if these men made it through hell to get home.
But in Dunkirk, Nolan focuses on the noncombatants who save the stranded soldiers, the men who use their personal boats to transport them to safety.
Rylance is good as Mr. Dawson, who takes his son and another teenager from Great Britain aboard his private vessel to save the soldiers, but he was better in Bridge of Spies.
It’s easy to see why Dunkirk is getting rave reviews. The views are breathtaking and Nolan, by at least all accounts, keeps the story historically accurate. But still, if the German troops were strong enough to push the Allied forces to the sea where they were out in the open, why didn’t they finish them off? You are really telling me that three Allied planes, already light on fuel, could have held off the German Air Force?
Sorry, I’m not buying that – and neither should you.
If this evacuation was truly a miracle, which it was, then shouldn’t have Nolan focused on the lasting relationships formed by the soldiers and the unarmed civilians who risked their lives to save them?
If some dude and his kid drove their family’s boat within range of the German Army to rescue you, wouldn’t you stay in touch with them? I’d treat them like family, probably name my kid after him.
Nolan, whose recent work includes The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and Interstellar, is a masterful storyteller. His reputation is also a major reason why Dunkirk is getting bombarded with praise instead of getting its shortcomings magnified.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Just go see for yourself.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 18 years experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He’s also an editor for CBSSports.com. He’s crossing his fingers the only baseball team in Baltimore that will contend for a title this summer won’t be his fantasy squad, the Catonsville Cartel. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.