Oscar Week Film Review: Dunkirk

Nominated for 8 Oscars, can Chrstopher Nolan’s Dunkirk change my mind about war films…?

“The tide’s turning now.
‘How can you tell?’
The bodies are coming back.”

I’m not really a fan of war films, hence having avoided Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk until now. ‘It’s not a war film’ they said, tempting me to overcome my natural antipathy but they lied. It may not be a conventional war film but it remains a punishing film with a whole lot of war in it and so really not my thing at all.

Nolan is a bravura film-maker, that much is true. And this is an audacious take on a much-filmed, much-explored moment in world history. Free from context, meaningful dialogue, narrative thrust, this becomes a study in the desperate struggle for survival of the Allied forces on that beach in Northern France. And all the waiting they did.

Trouble is, there is zero emotional engagement here. The horrors of war are neutered by a bloodless approach, individual stories are obscured by the grand sweep of the ‘epic’, and the structural trickery of three plot strands set over different time periods is a sensory assault too far. Others have acclaimed it the greatest war film ever though, so who knows.

Photograph: Warner Bros

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