I fail to join the chorus of praise from critics and many film fans for Dunkirk. I came with big expectation to this film, not only because I read the critics, but also because is a director whose work I enjoy, who tries and succeeds to surprise in most of his films, in very different genres. This is why Dunkirk, his tentative in the WWII films genre slightly disappointed me. To be clear, it’s a good film on any scale. It’s just not the best on Nolan’s scale, IMO. I really hope that the race to the Academy Awards is not over (as some predict) and better films will show up in the race for the small statues.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5013056/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5013056/

 

I am lacking in this historical description the element of surprise and innovation that Nolan brought to films like MementoInception, The Prestige, or even Interstellar. What we get instead is an almost docu-drama approach to a historical event that is known well enough so that we need not too much background information and we can face the individual destinies of the heroes. I liked the fact that for most of the film Nolan and the authors of the script avoided the heroic or melodramatic approach and presented war as lived by the soldiers, a bloody chaos which found the young men unprepared not only from a military point of view but also from a personal perspective. War is not a collection of heroic deeds but also or mostly a fight for survival. The trap of melodrama is not completely avoided however, and a few scenes to the end seem to belong rather to another film. So does the character of the British navy commander played by – wasted talent. The other actors are less known and it’s better so, as most are supposed to be the anonymous soldiers who fought for their own lives, some of them with success, some with less luck. A special mention for the excellent musical and sound track which helps a lot the cinematography which is also impressive at many moments.

 

(video source Warner Bros. Pictures)

 

At the end of the movie, when some of the heroes make it alive to Britain, the film leaves the personal contexts of its heroes to refer to the political context of the day, which is for us now the historical context. The trains with the survivors just start to make their ways and the politicians already use the events to push ahead their agenda. Their is a gap between the mess that they just had survived, and the words that describe the facts in the newspapers and in the Parliament. It was a necessary gap, however. Big war stories are built of small personal stories, that sometimes include fear and mistakes. The evacuation at Dunkirk was one of the key moment of WWII. The avoided disaster on the beach at Dunkirk prepared the victory on the beaches of the Normandie in the summer of 1944. The saving of hundred of thousands of soldiers after the 1940 Allied defeat in Europe allowed for the men under arms to be spared the sufferings of being war prisoners,  allowed for regrouping of the forces, the defense of Britain and eventually the turn of fate and victory in the war. It was a key moment in the war. That was not enough to make of  Dunkirk a great movie.