Dunkirk tells the story of the evacuation of British forces trapped on the beaches near the port of Dunkirk in the early stages of World War II. Director and writer Christopher Nolan attempts to humanize the events by focusing on the experiences of a few characters – Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and a French soldier (Damien Bonnard) trapped on the beach and desperately trying to escape, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) owner and pilot of a small boat heading to Dunkirk to assist with the evacuation, Farrier (Tom Hardy) a Royal Air Force pilot defending the flotilla from the German air force, and Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) the British officer directing the evacuation on the beach.
Hardy and Rylance both do great work portraying extremely brave men placing themselves in grave danger. It’s the sort of grit and determination in the face of adversity for which the British circa World War II have been credited. Both were ready to plunge into the teeth of a war zone to do what they could to help save as many men as possible. You got a real sense of the personal stakes involved in a massive operation.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film never really gelled. Tommy and the French soldier were too generic and gave the audience very little reason to connect with or care about them. Their improbable string of bad luck was likely an attempt to convey the extreme danger of the situation, but it started to get almost silly. Kenneth Branagh, usually a fine actor, did little more than stare at the sea and look either despairing or hopeful depending on the course of events.
The story is a matter of historical record. Dunkirk is a character driven piece and, while parts of it work, most of it doesn’t. Much of its hour and 46 minutes plays out like a bland documentary. It’s not a terrible film, but it’s not great either.
Overall rating: 6/10