The almost unbelievable story of the massive evacuation of cornered Allied troops on the beaches of France toward the beginning of World War II was begging to be told. Almost half a million men were trapped against the shores of the English Channel--being bombarded from above--and, astoundingly, civilians--in every kind of sea-faring vessel imaginable--played an important role in rescuing them.
Unfortunately, Chris Nolan's "Dunkirk" doesn't really do the saga justice. The camerawork is jerky and uneven (and I don't mean "heat of the battle" jerky), the soundtrack is grating and conspicuous, the acting is mezza-mezza, the editing is abominable, and worst of all, the pacing is so dreadful that the tension and danger is constantly broken every few minutes. In the beginning of the film, strange and confusing subtitles appear and then they stop--also creating fragmentation. So many scenes are so lengthy that I found myself bored--even in the midst of unexpected life-or-death dogfights in the air. I never once forgot that I was watching a movie. A movie that was not well made.
Nowhere in the film did my heart pound and leap into my throat as it should have. The reality of the gore of war is whitewashed, and all the horror winds up looking like some commonplace, ho-hum historical re-enactment with a few perfunctory informational lines of dialogue, trying to dredge up a sentiment or two in us. Nothing ever felt actually desperate to me. Nothing connected with my head or heart beyond a few facts about the event that I was unaware of. The narrative was easy enough to follow, but dull, if that's possible. Was it unfair of me to be comparing "Dunkirk" with "Saving Private Ryan" the entire time? It just didn't hold a candle. "Saving Private Ryan" should have upped the ante for war filmmaking for all time. Although nothing can capture the true misery and hell of war, "Hacksaw Ridge" is another fine example of recent war filmmaking. But I suppose for audiences to learn a little something about this battle/non-battle/"miracle" (Churchill), it wouldn't hurt to take a look at Nolan's work.
Many, many times I lost my ability to concentrate on the actors, the action, the story-line, the dialogue. Our main character is the most unconvincing of all. For some unfathomable reason, he casually smirks through the entire film. Conversely, Harry Styles, in his silver screen acting debut, has potential.
May I suggest a highly-readable, firsthand, anecdotal account of this uncanny episode in The Good War? The name of the book is "The Sands of Dunkirk." The one line I remember from the book is that--fully expecting to be slaughtered or captured by the Nazi-barbarians--the retreating Allied forces had been commanded to free any pet birds from their cages that they might find in the abandoned houses along the way to the sea. Mercy.