Don't believe the hype.
Film Review © 2017 by Trip Reynolds
Directed by Christopher Nolan; Screenplay by Christopher Nolan; Produced by Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas; Line Producer (France) John Bernard; Line Producer (Netherlands) Erwin Godschalk; Associate Producer (Netherlands) Maarten Swart; Associate Producer Andy Thompson; and Executive Producer Jake Myers.
Starring: Fionn Whitehead (as Tommy), Damien Bonnard (as the "spy," French Soldier); Aneurin Barnard (as Gibson); Lee Armstrong (as Grenadier), and James Bloor (as Irate Soldier), Barry Keoghan (as George), Mark Rylance (as Mr. Dawson), Tom Glynn-Carney (as Peter), Tom Hardy (as Farrier), Jack Lowden (as Collins), and a robust supporting cast and extras.
"Dunkirk (2017)" is not a remake of the 1958 film of the same title, and it's not a "re-imagining" of another film. Contrary to positive reviews from mainstream film critics, this 2017 version of Dunkirk is not one of the best World War II films ever made. So, this mediocrity stands on its own. What makes this film so bad? That's easy to delineate.
First, for the overwhelming majority of non-comedic, reality-based war films, "action" and "drama" are consistently the two most dominate plot devices or techniques to move the story narrative forward. This film lacked both action and drama. Instead, this film is configured into three individual but convoluted themes that don't actually intersect until very late in this slowly paced film: (1) the mole, about a soldier believed to be a spy; (2) the sea battle, of how the British navy conficated civilian ships or civilians volunteered to rescue stranded armed forces from Dunkirk; and (3) the air, about the cat-and-mouse aerial battles between British and German planes across the English Channel. These "themes" are solidly episodic and are only worthy of televsion or cable, but do not rise to the higher standard required for a very expensive, theatrically released major motion picture.
Second, the action and dramtic sequences are not compelling. This film spends more time with key players running and hiding from the enemy on the street, on a pier, on the beach, sneaking onto a ship with an injured soldier, hiding in a boat to evade the enemy, etc., than actually fighting the enemy. Plus, the focus of the sparsely written script is not about being victorious, but the apparent ineptness of allied forces and the mediocrity of basic survival. Classic WWII prison camp films such as "Stalag 17 (1953)" and "The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)" are significantly more inspiring and compelling than "Dunkirk (2017).
Third, given this film genré, the absence of truly heroic images embelishes the mediocrity of this film. There are no "name above the title" heroes in this film. There are no "leading" men (John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Robert Downey, Jr., etc.) or women (Sigourney Weaver, Cynthia Rothrock, Zoe Saldana, etc.). Oh, there are a few acts of self-sacrifice, but the overall tone of this film is not heroic, nothing like the final scene of Steve McQueen in "Hell Is For Heroes (1962)." Of course, nowadays, all military personnel and every civilian first-responder (police, fire, medical rescue, etc.) are often labeled a hero. There was a time when the act of simply putting on a uniform didn't automatically qualify someone as a "hero" or someone special. The "job" is the job; nothing more or less, and as consistently conveyed by the most awarded soldier in World War II, Audie Murphy, and the most awarded soldier in World War I, Alvin Cullum (Sergeant) York, doing the job involes humility not recognition. Unfortunately, in our current social climate of always being "politically correct" about everything, and giving everyone an award so as not to exclude anyone, this "modernized" war film seems to suggest that even cowardice, running from the enemy, is a virtue.
This film is blatantly pretentious by posturing to be greater than it is, and it's deceptive to suggest "Dunkirk (2017)" as equal to or greater than any of the following exciting World War II era films, most of which are highly thought-provoking or controversial, epic or near-epic.
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When you have no sense of history, no sense of dramatic perspective, it's easy, it's very easy to inaccurately label "Dunkirk (2017)," a film without the reality of documentaries like "Shoah (1985)," a film without the heroism of "Hacksaw Ridge (2016)," and a film without the scope of "Empire of the Sun (1987)," as something more than it is.
The acting performances were perfunctory and by-the-numbers. Music by Hans Zimmer was by-the-numbers. Cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema was dark and brooding. Film editing by Lee Smith was lethargic.
Direction by Christopher Nolan was dark, brooding, and lethargic. Although film is only 106 minutes, film felt much longer due to dark tone and being extremely slow paced. Film should have been trimmed by at least 15 minutes.
Recommendation: Presented above are thirty-(30) films that are signifcantly more compelling, and typically with more action than "Dunkirk (2017)." Pick one. Pick two. Even better, watch them all!