seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY
Dunkirk's place in world history isn't something generally taught in American schools; at least, it wasn't taught to me. Wikipedia says the French town is actually a commune, which is like a township. In 1940, during World War 2, the British army was stuck there, having been cut off by Germany, so they had to get out by sea. Winston Churchill put the call out to any and every available boat to come to Dunkirk and help get the soldiers the hell out of Dodge, and they came - over 900 vessels that evacuated over 300,000 troops.
I first became aware of this event through - you guessed it - the movies. One of the highlights of the superb movie Atonement is a roughly-five-minute sequence depicting the Dunkirk evacuation that, in itself, was pretty memorable. Director Joe Wright filmed it as one long tracking shot, following James McAvoy through the beach, amidst the British troops preparing to leave. Atonement isn't a war movie, but this scene definitely sticks out in the memory. (That and Keira Knightley in that green dress.)
Christopher Nolan's film Dunkirk obviously gets to do much more with the event, and he does plenty: aerial combat, sinking ships, grim-faced officers, baby-faced soldiers, acts of selfishness, acts of valor, all within an original screenplay by Nolan light on dialogue but still heavy on drama.
Visually speaking, this film is breathtaking. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema goes above and beyond in getting not just beautiful but unique images, on land, sea and air, that belong on a big screen. Editor Lee Smith pieces it all together in a way that maximizes suspense while balancing the multiple storylines, a Nolan trademark.
All this said, I appreciated Dunkirk more than I loved it. Maybe it was because I arrived a few minutes late again (still not used to Cinemart actually starting their movies on time, unlike most multiplexes), but I had some trouble distinguishing certain characters, determining relationships, figuring out why x was doing y. I also found the characters a little too minimal. I found it hard to care about them beyond a surface level. I even dozed off here and there.
It's more than a little surprising to see a war movie do as well as this one has during the summer months, but then, it is also a Nolan movie, and at this point in time, he seems to have the Midas touch. I appreciate his commitment to working with celluloid in a digital age, to making films meant to be seen in theaters, not on iPhones. Dunkirk is a movie that will be analyzed by future filmmakers for its meticulous attention to craft. I just wished I liked it a little better.