By Dave B.
In Dunkirk (2017, currently on HBO), during WWII 400,000 British and French soldiers are trapped in the city and on the beaches of Dunkirk France, surrounded by the Nazi army. They face a harrowing situation: near-constant attacks from the land and air have rendered the British Navy incapable of rescuing all of them, but the loss of such a large force would cripple the British war effort and precipitate the invasion of England. As the trapped army becomes more certain of their doom, soldiers attempt ever more desperate measures to escape France and reach their homes that are a short, but oh-so-far trip across the English Channel. Their only hope of escape lies in the arrival of a cobbled together flotilla of civilian boats operated by fishermen and yachtsmen.
I rarely say this about a movie, but Dunkirk is a masterpiece. From the first scene, it’s filled with a tension, intensity, and desperation that are like characters in their own right: ever-present, evolving, and influencing every other character and scene. Yes, Christopher Nolan’s directing is fantastic. The shots are beautiful and bleak and speak powerfully to an ever-growing despair on the part of the English soldiers. But the real standout in Dunkirk is Hans Zimmer’s score. I honestly can’t remember a movie whose music was more successful at playing my emotions like an instrument and putting me into the mood of every scene. Dunkirk could’ve been shot with animated stick figures and still been powerfully moving with the score that it has.
My only (somewhat slight) complaint about the film is that I didn’t really feel any emotional connection with any of the characters. Individually, I didn’t much care what happened to any of them. Instead, my bond was with the surrounded British Army (and Navy, Air Force, and volunteers) as a whole. What Dunkirk does is show the power (and occasional futility) of individual effort harnessed to a collective will. That’s a powerful message and an important one, particularly in war movies, but what traditionally attracts audiences to most war films is their connection to a specific character or characters. Eschewing that is a bold choice and frankly, one that I wasn’t prepared for.
I’m not going to go so far as to say that Dunkirk is the best war movie ever. But I’m more than willing to say that it’s one of my personal favorites. When it ended, I felt as if I hadn’t blinked for nearly two hours. Not only do I recommend Dunkirk, I’ll go so far as to call it a “must watch”. It’s a story that more Americans (and people in general) should be familiar with (regardless of whatever creative liberties may have been taken in making the movie), and it also may portend a new trend in the way that audiences are asked to connect with war films.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.