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Viewing Topic "First Impressions of Dunkirk 2017"
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Posted by: Black 5
Posted on: 25/07/2017 00:13:10

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Posted by: Black 5
Total Posts: 23
Joined Date: Thursday, 24 October 2013

I recently saw Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk 2017. Mu first impression was that this was an entertaining, but historically mediocre film for a number of reasons.

 

First off, it's worth noting that there are very, very few WW2 films that cover the period 1939-41 in Europe and most of these (Battle of Britain, Das Boot, Sink the Bismarck) cover the rare Allied victories. The only other major film that I know covering the French campaign of 1940 was the 1964 film, Weekend at Dunkirk. I remember that film and for my money, it was a far more resonating film that Nolan's current effort.

 

I see three major problems with Dunkirk 2017. First, the film is non-sequential and many viewers will not realize that the aerial sequences cover a period of 50 minutes, while the sea actions is covering hours and the land action is in days. Rather than using conventional methods of just listing the date (e.g. 26 May 1940), the director left time ambiguous and he keeps inter-mixing time lines to show three main story arcs. Tom Hardy's Spitfire is in the air from beginning to end of the film, but Kenneth Branagh is in the beachhead for a week.

 

A second major problem is the real lack of dialogue in the film. Branagh is an excellent actor but barely gets 50 words to say. Tom Hardy's face is hidden behind an oxygen mask for the entire film. When I look back at the great war films (e.g. Cross of Iron, Paths of Glory, Zulu), there was always at least one or two memorable characters who said things worth remembering. Sadly, Nolan's Dunkirk leaves its characters mostly silent or saying silly things, like "you can almost see it (England) from here." No kidding. Lacking fleshed out characters, Dunkirk's protagonists are reduced to bit players that are easily forgettable.

 

The third major problem is the minimal French presence in the film and the complete absence of the enemy (in the flesh). Nolan should have watched some good war movies before attempting this one and recognized that the presence of "the enemy" really helps to add depth to stories that are about opposing sides. For example, Tora, Tora, Tora was terrific showing how the Japanese planned and executed the attack on Pearl Harbor. The absolute minimal French depiction in the film was an insult to the French rearguards that fought hard to keep the Germans away from the beaches. It would have been interesting to see at least one scene from the German perspective and show them entering Dunkirk on 4 June 1940.

 

There were a lot of other things "off" in Dunkirk which demonstrated a lack of attention to detail. The BEF left thousands of vehicles abandoned near the beach, but we only get a brief glimpse of abandoned equipment in one scene. There are very few British Army officers on the beach - I saw only two - which made it seem as if the troops were abandoned by their leadership. Some effort should have been made to show British troops fighting on the perimeter, instead of just standing around like helpless refugees. My wife said she came away with the impression from the film that there was little fighting going on around Dunkirk, which of course was the exact opposite of the truth.

 

Overall, I found Dunkirk 2017 rather vapid film, with empty characters and the only real redeeming element was the relentless enemy air attacks which did convey a sense of fear.

Posted on: 25/07/2017 00:13:11
Posted by: Paintybeard
Total Posts: 269
Joined Date: Monday, 4 February 2013

Thank you for your review of "Dunkirk", Black 5. I have not seen it yet, but it is high on my "to do" list once I get ashore.

 I was suprised to read some of your complaints. Unless a film is specifically designated a documentary it seems unreasonable to complain that there aren't exactly the right percentage of of nationality X or an accurate ratio of officers to other ranks etc. The film-maker can quite legitimately argue that he is covering the incidents and persons that interest him and we are invited to share that vision. Must we always be deliberately confusing entertainment with education?

 You cite "Zulu" as an excellent war film, and I whole-heartedly agree. But surely the same complaints about accuracy that you level at "Dunkirk" can be made in both films? Michael Caine looks/acts nothing like Bromhead! And he never had a Webley revolver! But such niggling does nothing to diminish our enjoyment of an enthralling story.

  Still, depite your caveats, I hope you found the film better value than "Panfilov 26".

Posted on: 25/07/2017 05:17:58
Posted by: Black 5
Total Posts: 23
Joined Date: Thursday, 24 October 2013

Hi Painty,

I don't expect a documentary, but since Dunkirk covers a real event (as opposed to a fictional one, like The Eagle Has Landed), it should bear certain similarities with actual events. I have been re-looking at photos of the actual Dunkirk in late May 1940 and note the immense amount of debris on the beach and the burning buildings behind, yet in Nolan's version, the city of Dunkirk is untouched. Indeed, it really doesn't look much like a battlefield. Near the end of the evacuation, the beach area was under artillery fire, too, which is another missing element in the film.

As for the officers/characters, it really would have been worthwhile to have some real people depicted, instead of nameless ciphers. For example, Montgomery, as commander of the British 3rd Infantry Division, played an important role in the retreat to Dunkirk and this would have been an excellent opportunity to include him. I think back to a film like A Bridge too Far, with Anthony Hopkins portraying John Frost on Arnhem bridge and can't understand why I movie that wants to show British reliance in the face of adversity couldn't highlight a single real individual. As it was, I found the fictional characters had no appeal. Cillian Murphy, portraying a shell-shocked survivor, came across as completely unsympathetic after he selflishly kills another person on one of the little ships. Doesn't matter to me if the actors look like the real people (although I though Laurence Olivier did look like Dowding in Battle of Britain), as long as real military history gets some inclusion. I know Michael Caine was very unlike the real Bromhead, but I found him appealing in the role. Chard and Bromhead were immortialized in Zulu.

Similarly, I love the film Waterloo, but it is annoying that Wellington's army is made to appear 100% British. No Belgians, Dutch, Brunskwickers, etc.

Getting back to the 1964 French film Weekend ar Dunkirk, the focus was French, but British troops were shown extensively and even had speaking roles. It was a far better film. The fact is that Dunkirk was an ALLIED battle, not a British battle, and excluding the French contribution is not only assinine but propagates a false mythology. Same thing with the little ship mythology. The contribution of civilians in the evacuation was significant, but the bulk of the troops were evacuated by the Royal Navy and large ships, not sailboats. The film makes it appear that it was the little ships, not the Royal Navy, that saved the BEF.

Of course, I'm always/usually glad to see any historical film, but the bar should be a bit higher than just entertainment.

 

Posted on: 25/07/2017 17:04:05
Posted by: Paintybeard
Total Posts: 269
Joined Date: Monday, 4 February 2013

Good day again, Black 5. And thank you for taking the time out from your doubtless busy schedule to put such a detailed responce on this forum.

 I mainly replied to you as I get alarmed when anyone says that something is insulting. I really don't that that was Mr. Nolans intention. And in these litigious days there always seem to be plenty of people who will sieze on any complaint to raise a cry of discrimination and the next thing you know we are all up to our necks in lawyers... I would think that the only people who might legitimately feel hard done by would be the remaining veterans of the French units who did so very staunchly hold the Dunkirk perimiter in order that others might escape. Has anyone heard of any response to this film from them?

 As I say, I haven't seen "Dunkirk" yet, but I certainly intend to. And will probably be back on this forum to pontificate further at that time.

Posted on: 25/07/2017 23:38:20
Posted by: GI Gene
Total Posts: 39
Joined Date: Saturday, 7 February 2009

I have not seen Dunkirk yet, but I am interested in looking up Weekend at Dunkirk. I just paged through the latest issue of Time Magazine where they give it a positive review and interview Christopher Nolan, but it did feature a photo of Nolan with extras dressed as French soldiers, so I guess there were at least three in the movie...


I did read one negative review on one blog where it said that the brief sequence in Atonement did a better job of depicting Dunkirk with the abondoned vehicles, debris, and disheveled soldiers on the beach.


 

I have noticed a pattern in World War II movies made in the last 20 years:


Americans make a movie 

British respond- "We were there too!" (insert Australians if it is set in the Pacific)


British make a movie

French respond- "We were there too!"


French make a movie

Spanish Republicans respond- "We were there too!"


Wink

Posted on: 26/07/2017 02:46:47
Posted by: Paintybeard
Total Posts: 269
Joined Date: Monday, 4 February 2013

@ GI Gene:

Then the Russians make a war film

And everybody says: "Which planet was this on?"

Posted on: 26/07/2017 04:01:12
Posted by: Black 5
Total Posts: 23
Joined Date: Thursday, 24 October 2013

Interesting admission about the film on the BBC: Historian Joshua Levine, who is also the film's historical consultant, told me that Dunkirk was a work of fiction. This seems to be the one-size-fits-all caveat added to historical films today, akin to 'artistic license.'

Sort of like '300' depicting the Persian Army as weird creatures.

Posted on: 27/07/2017 14:13:05
Posted by: Paintybeard
Total Posts: 269
Joined Date: Monday, 4 February 2013

Yes Black 5, But also "sort of like" Bromhead depicted as a beardless young aristocrat in "Zulu"?

I'm puzzled that on some ocassions you seem to insist that if every detail is not spot-on then a film is a let-down, and others you can let it ride.

Once again I have to say I have not seen the film yet, but I had assumed that it would be considered a work of fiction. I understand that one of the main characters commits a murder. Imagine the fuss there would have been if the film had implied that this was a genuine historical figure.

Posted on: 27/07/2017 19:20:10
Posted by: Black 5
Total Posts: 23
Joined Date: Thursday, 24 October 2013

Hi Painty,

As I said, I don't really expect actors to look exactly like a historical character, but I would hope that they try to come across in speach and manner how the actual artifact behaved. A few years ago, there was a theatrical production in the U.S. that wanted to use a black female actor to portray General Robert E. Lee, saying 'why not?'

Looking at 'big battle' films like The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, etc, there were a mix of actual characters and fictional ones (some were composites), which is fine. Frankly, I don't know why it seems a hard sell to suggest that Nolan could have included at least a few real characters. How about Ramsay, who planned the operation?

Hollwood has gone off the deep end into 'fictionalizing' WW2:

(A) U-571, with Americans capturing Enigma machines, instead of Royal Navy. Justifiable outrage in UK. 

(B) Saving Private Ryan - no bocage in Normandy. US Ranger squad can walk 20 miles through German lines, no problem.

(C) Fury, poor US Army apparently out-gunned, out-numbered by Wehrmacht in April 1945.

(D) Inglorious Basterds, apparently US Army killed Hitler.

 

Actually, there is some great WW2 historical fiction out there, but I don't see that getting made into films. My main point is that a mediocre film like Dunkirk could have been a great and memorable film, but instead it really lacks the core (dialogue, characters) that sets apart the great films. 

 

Posted on: 27/07/2017 20:30:06
Posted by: Paintybeard
Total Posts: 269
Joined Date: Monday, 4 February 2013

Good day Black 5. If "Dunkirk" is only sheer spectacle and has no real characters in it then you're right, it will have been a bit of a waste of the talents of people like Branagh and Hardy.

 I don't see any problem in fictionalising WW2 as such, "Cross of Iron" was an excellent example of how it can be done. Regretably too many directors try to make clever contemporary political points instead of just telling us a good story. Personally I have always thought that Len Deighton's "Bomber" would make a very good film. (Provided the scriptwriters did not muck it about...)

 Oh and the Robert E. Lee play you mention; I would have thought the real problem would be finding a black actress who was willing to take on the role.

Posted on: 28/07/2017 01:02:47
Posted by: SimonMc
Total Posts: 33
Joined Date: Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Just seen

 

To be honest, dire

 

Amazing panoramic shots of empty beaches

Heinkel Bombers, bombing at low level (where were the Ju-88 Do.17??)

Severe lack of Abandoned vehicles on beach and in and around Dunkirk

Posted on: 29/07/2017 23:09:40
Posted by: PAUL W
Total Posts: 138
Joined Date: Sunday, 4 January 2015

I'm seeing it this evening so will post my comments on the film later. I've read a bit about the film and alot seems to come down to Nolan's ideas for film making. He has said he prefers a non linear time line which seems to echo black 5's comments. As for tom hardy in a mask, nolan has said  that he has very expressive eyebrows, which he brought out as bane in the batman film, so used it again for Dunkirk.  Apparently hardy's character has a radio conversation with a uncredited Michael Caine  (I'll be looking out for it). 


Black 5 as for your comments re other films, I haven't seen weekend at Dunkirk but after your comments I ordered it off eBay.  You may be interested in a bbc mini serries called Dunkirk that has just been re-realeased  (alot cheaper than I paid to get it from the netherlands). It is 3 x hour long episodes and basically seems to give you a version that you wanted this film to be. 

My final comment would be that it's been a very long time that I've seen so much advertising for a historical war film and anything that encourages people to read around the film has got to be good, even if people are only going to see harry styles,  it is going to spark an interest.

Posted on: 30/07/2017 13:31:40
Posted by: KenA
Total Posts: 100
Joined Date: Tuesday, 15 October 2013

While the focus is currently on Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” (2017), it perhaps shouldn’t be forgotten that there was an earlier film version.

Leslie Norman’s “Dunkirk” (1958) featured such notables as John Mills, Richard Attenborough, Bernard Lee and even had Bernard Cribbins playing a small bit part (as a thirsty sailor).  The film’s beach sequences were shot at Camber Sands in SE England and the wartime Dunkirk town was recreated using part of Rye Harbour in Sussex, England.  The film incorporated some real-life archive footage so there is some sense of realism about it.  One drawback is that it is in black and white (no colour in those days) and secondly it has the usual faults of British war films made in the latter 1950s (a bit gung ho at times).  Nevertheless it is worth a look if you get the chance to view it on DVD.

Essentially, the film follows (1) An easy going British Corporal (John Mills) in France who finds himself responsible for the lives of his men when their officer is killed and he has to get them back to Britain somehow; and (2) Two British civilians who are being dragged into the war with Operation Dynamo, the scheme to get the French and British forces back from the Dunkirk beaches - some come forward to help, others are less willing.

Norman’s “Dunkirk” was made for £400,000 and was apparently the second most popular production at the British box office in 1958, though it did not do so well in North America.

I look forward to your review Paul W of Christopher Nolan’s version.

Posted on: 09/08/2017 02:36:31
Posted by: Black 5
Total Posts: 23
Joined Date: Thursday, 24 October 2013

Haven't seen that one, but I've heard of it and know it had some good actors like Richard Attenborough. Some of the old 1950s war films can be tough to watch, but they did cover a lot of topics and at the time, the audiences were quite familiar with the subject. Unfortunately, a large portion of modern audiences know only basics about WW2 (e.g. Allies won).

I believe one of the best models for a "big" WW2 film was 1962's The Longest Day, which had major American, British, French and Germaan characters. The film boasted several great set-piece actions (Pegasus Bridge, Point du Hoc, St. Mere el Gleise) and did a great job covering the highlights of one busy day. A Bridge Too Far followed the same formula. Both films had plenty of great lines and actors. Imagine if they ever did a follow-on film that covered the first week in Normandy (e.g. British efforts to capture Caen, Wittman's Tigers at Villers Bocage, American bocage fighting) - now that could be a great film.

Posted on: 09/08/2017 13:55:37

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