Dunkirk is a remarkable movie. With Germany successfully pushing British and French forces to the sea at Dunkirk, 400,000 British soldiers must be evacuated across the channel back to England. So close to home, and yet so far away, the British air force is unable to provide adequate air coverage, so the armies are exposed to continual German attacks.
The movie starts as a British soldier crosses over a French blockade and arrives at the beach. At first there is a sense of safety, but it isn't long before the first German plane comes flying overhead dropping bombs.
Though I'm no war expert, the film felt remarkably real to me. I can't think of even one scene where I thought, "That looked fake." There were some times that when a bomb or gunfire went off, I actually screamed in surprise. Freakiness.
And this was all done under a PG-13 rating -- proof that you don't need gratuitous gore and swaths of F-bombs to effectively capture a war scene. Though, there were plenty of "bloody's," which I think is supposed to be a swear word? And I think I heard an F-bomb in there somewhere, but it was hard to make out with the accent.
With all that said, this wasn't my favorite Nolan movie. There were several distractions which all seemed to take away from the experience, which I will list here.
#1) Nolan decided to tell the story out of order. Part of this is because there were three parties at play: the armies that were on the beach for days, the ships who took a day or so to make the journey across the channel, and the planes who only had an hour of fuel. So, we see the planes take off near the beginning of the movie, about the same time that we see a ship that left harbor the day before. By the end of the movie, there is a convergence, but along the way the story goes back and forth in time, even showing the same scene four times from different points of view.
I'm sure that if I went back and watched the movie again, I'd appreciate this quirk a little more, but on a first viewing it was confusing. I saw a plane go down once, and when I saw another plane going down it took me a while to realize it was the same plane.
#2) The music by Hans Zimmer was awesome, as usual, but in this case I think it detracted from the movie. It was too loud and too interesting. The entire soundtrack was basically one big Philip-Glass-like treatment of Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations. It was a good and appropriate piece to feature -- it's British and one of my favorite Elgar tunes. But see there? That was the problem. As soon as I said, "I recognize that music," it took me out of the movie.
#3) And then there were the obligatory Nolan actors. As soon as I saw the "Scarecrow," whom I saw in Batman and Inception, it took me out of the movie. Tom Hardy's character wasn't so bad, as he had a mask on the whole time ... wait! And there was even a cameo near the end of someone we've seen in Batman and Nolan's TV show, Person of Interest. I think it would have been much more effective to use far less recognizable characters playing soldiers.
Still ... it remains a movie to see, and I hope it gets awards.