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Dunkirk Movie Review: Good storytelling, lame stories

When I saw that there was going to be a movie about the British evacuation of Dunkirk, I knew I wouldn’t like it.  Everyone who knew me also knew I wouldn’t like it.

The only question was whether I would actively despise the film (which is how I feel about “Saving Private Ryan”) or merely hold it in casual contempt.

I suppose it is a tribute to filmmaker Christopher Nolan that I am in the latter camp.

Probably the most unexpected development was that I saw the thing in the theater at all.  I don’t normally do that these days.  I didn’t want to, but my eldest begged me to go with her.  She’s a fan of Harry Styles from when he was in a boy band.  I still don’t know who he is, but I went with her because that’s what dads do.

I get that Dunkirk is a work of fiction and an impressionistic take on an epic event.  I’m actually fine with that approach to showing historical events.  I beats the often-ponderous top-down perspective that usually makes massive factual blunders.

My criticism falls into two categories:  the stories and the soundtrack.

Let’s tackle the soundtrack first.  It’s annoying and distracting.  I heard people talking about taking ear protection with them and I wished I had.  Music should support and enhance the mood, not constantly grate on your nerves. 

Hans Zimmer reminds me a lot of Danny Elfman – they both have a handful of melodies that they endlessly recycle.  If you listen to Zimmer’s music, he used essentially the same theme from “Gladiator” in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”  Having exhausted that well, he turned to LOUD AND BOOMING CHORDS missed with tck-tck-tch effects to ensure the maximum discomfort of the viewer.

As to the stories, I didn’t like them.  The best of the three – the one relating to the pilot – was great until he learned to levitate his aircraft.

Nolan must hate the British Army because he almost uniformly portrays them as selfish, rude and cowardly.  I see there’s some nonsense about how the four companies of Indian mule drivers got left out of the film (that would be roughly 600 out of 338,000 troops, just so you have the proportions right), but why not at least show the rear guard?

Those were the guys who really pulled things together.  Contra Nolan, the French didn’t take over the lines until the very end.  For most of the evacuation British forces held the majority of the perimeter.  When the Belgians surrendered without warning on May 28, the British performed an amazing feat of arms in shifting forces over to fill the gap.

The fact is that the evacuation couldn’t have happened if the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force just milled aimlessly around the beaches waiting to be saved.  Even in defeat they remained disciplined and worked together for the common good.  One of the odd aspects of the battle was that stragglers would fall in with other troops in the middle of a firefight and say things like “Hello, chaps!  Mind if we play through?” 

That would have something to see, much more interesting than a bunch of Highlanders cowering in a beached steamer waving guns at each other.  The only person who was remotely interesting in that respect was the small boat captain.

It found it odd that Nolan left the competent army guys in the background (like the engineer who built the jetty out of trucks) and instead focused on the screw-ups.  Who wants to watch that?

Well, I guess some people do, but I’m not one of them.


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