We watched Dunkirk on opening day in an IMAX theatre where the sound system vibrates your seat and unless you’re sitting in the back three rows it’s difficult to take in the entire panorama. The only thing missing was the sprays of water like you get in the Pirates of the Caribbean theatre in Disney World. In retrospect I wish I’d watched it in a regular movie theatre as my head kept bobbing around trying to take everything in and the volume level gave me a headache. According to the reviews it’s a great movie. While I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it. And a couple of friends who also saw it on opening day shared my reaction. We really didn’t think it measured up to the hype.
The movie focuses on the activities of a small number of soldiers and civilians who played a role in the Dunkirk evacuation in early June 1940 at the beginning of the war, before America was involved. When allied troops were defeated and driven to the western shores of France, the navy commissioned every type of civilian owned fishing and pleasure craft to cross the English Channel and retrieve 300,000 allied troops from the shallow beaches, not accessible by military ships. It was a massive civilian effort and allowed the allies to bring the men home to regroup and rebuild to again face the enemy. The action centres on a hospital ship, a few battle ships, three Spitfires and their pilots, the crew of a civilian pleasure boat used in the rescue and half a dozen ground troops who were trying to escape France. The story is filmed from three perspectives, the shore troops, the Spitfire pilots and one civilian rescue boat. The actors playing the ground troops were all good-looking young men with dark hair and I had trouble telling them apart. Despite the use of a title screen showing which day it was, I was confused by the switching from day to night and back to day again. I’m a proponent of chronological order.
The threats, challenges and dangers were accurately and brutally depicted. The tension was high and the action seemed real but personally, I found the focus too narrow. Considering the availability of employing extensive special effects to recreate the horror and scale of the evacuation, the movie makes the Dunkirk evacuation look smaller than it really was. The allies abandoned thousands of vehicles and tonnes of military equipment in the chaos, which was not depicted in the movie. Filmed on location at Dunkirk, the beaches are pristine with long lines of quiet soldiers standing in the water awaiting rescue. I would have liked a few real-life old newsreel shots of the actual evacuation thrown in at the end of the movie to tie everything together. Perhaps my judgement is unduly harsh and I have a feeling my impression may not represent the majority of movie goers. There will be a great deal of esoteric analysis of the film by Christopher Nolan. Was it moving? Was it representative? Did we get the meaning? When you see the movie, let me know what you think. I was rather underwhelmed.
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