Movie Review : Dunkirk (2017)
There is a reason why World War II movies are still so popular today. It was the last great good versus evil battle ever fought. The last time everyone banded against a political force unilaterally judged evil and kicked their asses into oblivion. So, there's a self-congratulatory joy to these movies that make me avoid them like McDonald's after 2AM. That is why I have been steering blissfully clear of Christopher Nolan's latest Dunkirk for so long, but I was wrong. Oh, so wrong.
Dunkirk is the most brilliant movie a WWII hater like me could ever hope for.
In case you didn't know the historical significance of what happened in Dunkirk (I sure didn't), know that 400 000 soldiers were trapped in this town and were systematically picked apart from the air by German forces until a spectacular evacuation operation that cost many, many lives was launched. Dunkirk is the story of this evacuation, told through three perspectives: a soldier trapped on the beach (Fionn Whitehead), a fighter-pilot coming in to rescue (Tom Hardy) and a harmless civil (Mark Rylance) looking to do the right thing and save young men from a fate they didn't deserve. It's both a very simple and a very complicated story.
I liked Dunkirk a whole lot more than I would've thought. It's like a scared-straight program for kids who suddenly want to enroll after playing a couple hours of Call of Duty. Nobody's triumphing over the evil Germans in this movie. Instead, the soldiers live in constant fear of getting picked apart by an invisible enemy and dying a painful death away from their loved ones. And many, many of them do during the film. There is a particularly terrifying scene where a rescue ship gets torpedoed the soldiers onboard either drown or swim back to Dunkirk. There are little to no WWII movie tropes in Dunkirk. Shit, it's more indebted to horror in its scene structure than any other genre.
That's why it was so interesting and unpredictable.
The other reason why I really enjoyed Dunkirk is Mr. Dawson, played by Mark Rylance, whom I didn't know from Adam prior to this viewing. See, I'm a complete sucker for characters who need redemption, but can't have it. People who are imbued with inexplicable strength by a past trauma and are looking to symbolically make things right. Mr. Dawson is not a soldier. He's an old man who happens to have a boat. So, without guns or extensive military training, he takes his son and his son's friend across the pond for a life of death trip, for reasons that are entirely his own. That narrative always gets to me. Dunkirk would've been a conventional WWII movie, I would've loved the shit out of Mr. Dawson anyway.
I really liked Dunkirk. I didn't love it and it's not my favorite Christopher Nolan movie by any means, but it reconciled me with the idea that he could made any movie and manage to be interesting. Will it win the Oscar for Best Picture? That is a tougher question to answer. It sure has the elements to seduce the Academy, but it's still not as forward thinking as films like Get Out or Lady Bird. It sure it a greater technical achievement, but the Academy owes the world a solid after fucking up Moonlight's win, last year. Dunkirk won't win the Oscar for Best Picture, but it's still a solid movie and you should give it a shot if you love the films of Christopher Nolan, like I do. It's unique, insular and slightly terrifying.