I hate war movies. I feel I should make that clear going in. This will not be an unbiased review.
The Movie Mommy family are currently vacationing in PEI where our red bearded (see: necked) patriarch is from. We decided to leave the Little One behind with her grandparents one night and foray into Charlottetown for what we now consider to be a wild night out: dinner AND a movie. Dinner was so terrible that we eschewed our plan to take our time over our meal and drinks and went straight to the Cineplex, where nothing was slated to begin for at least 30 min. All of this is to say that Dark Tower, which we’d planned to see, wasn’t going to start for 50 min and the thought of those extra 20 minutes of dead space was enough for my husband to push for Dunkirk instead. I feel that this inherently male brand of impatience reflects the type of attitude that starts a war in the first place. Then again, perhaps my inherently female complacence in allowing for a switch that I knew we’d both regret is the reason we still have so few women leading countries.
It was no surprise to me that I hated this movie. What did surprise me was how much I hated it. I figured that with Christopher Nolan at the helm, it would at least have a compelling script and gorgeous cinematography. Nope. There’s a non-linear narrative that is pointless and irritating, not a single female is given a line or screen presence (despite the background presence of nurses) and all the soldiers are completely interchangeable young white males with weak chins. The sound mixing was a combination of complete silence and jarringly loud war noises, which is the only positive note I can give. It felt accurate to the sounds one would experience during a tentative wartime truce. The silence is more unnerving than the gunfire, because with it comes uncertainty and dread. Like when the baby wanders into another room and suddenly there is total silence. That silence is terrifying and comes with the certainty that something of value to you is being ripped, chewed or defecated on.
I can sum up Dunkirk easily: the British are trapped on a French beach; two milquetoast boys weasel their way on to a ship carrying the injured soldiers back to England. The ship is bombed by German planes, the boys swim back to shore. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
At the same time, there is a small British yacht making its way to Dunkirk to try and help. They fish Cillian Murphy out of the water where his plane was in the process of sinking (how he got on that plane is never explained, as his backstory takes place on a boat). In thanks, he whines about not wanting to return to the beach, mortally injures a young crew member and generally is a creepy faced dick. From Christopher Nolan, I expected a twist reveal that Murphy is secretly a German spy who intentionally pushed the 17 year old boy in the sweater vest down a flight of stairs and blinded him as part of his war winning strategy. Nothing even resembling a twist happens though. This movie was as straightforward and dry as a Dunkirk Documentary on The History Channel.
Pictured: an audience watching Dunkirk
The final plot line that we follow is Tom Hardy in a Spitfire shooting down Germans planes. As my husband pointed out, this exact same scene is shoehorned into the narrative six times to signify him shooting down six separate planes I guess, but since it was literally shot-for-shot identical each time, it completely lacked anything resembling drama. “This was an easy acting gig for him eh,” said hubby, “Ok Tom we’re going to need you to put this mask on that obscures your face, sit in this fake cock pit and shift around a bit every now and then.”
The moment when a bunch of British civilian boats show up to take their soldiers home is lovely, but there is an identical moment in a movie that is so superior I feel bad even comparing the two.
The Greatest Movies Ever Made.
It wouldn’t be untoward to say that Pirate Radio (British Title The Boat That Rocked) is one of my top five favorite movies of all time, so perhaps a comparison to it is unfair for Dunkirk. Also, I’m aware that Dunkirk is based on an actual historical event (so is Pirate Radio btw) so saying that the moment when the boats showed up felt like plagiarism is probably unjustified, but dammit Kenneth Branagh was there for that historical moment in BOTH movies with his smug grin and his tidy mustache.
When the boats arrived and the soldiers started making the journey home, it felt like several hours of my life had gone by. Hubby turned to me and said, “Well that wasn’t so bad. It was just really long.” I leaned over and whispered, “Honey we’re only an hour in. I don’t think its anywhere near over.” To which he groaned and apologized for not waiting for Dark Tower and muttered that there’d better not be yet another Tom Hardy-flies-a-plane montage (there were four more to go).
My favorite part of the movie came at the end when the soldiers are back home in Britain and one of them is monologuing their way through an editorial on Dunkirk in the newspaper. The music swells, it looks as though there is about to be a great reveal about the future of Britain and then…
“ENOUGH ALREADY!” shouted the woman two rows ahead of us. It was great.
In tribute to her spirit I have created a few movie posters of my own for Dunkirk, that better exemplify what a summer movie should be.