Part 2: Dunkirk & the Argument For Historical Inaccuracy
With an Acknowledgement of Spider-Man Homecoming
Writer: Riley Glenn
Picture via IndieWire
Over the past two months, I have seen a number of movies that have come out. So far, these include; Baby Driver, Spider-Man Homecoming, Wonder Woman, and Dunkirk. These 4 movies are different in their own ways and my goal is to compare them and review how they did as films and offer my two cents on them. What follows is part 2 of a weekly movie article, beginning with my number three pick from the summer movies I have seen. If you missed it, I previously reviewed Wonder Woman, my number four pick. If I see a movie that ranks lower than this before the end of summer, I will try to adjust my articles accordingly and make it clear how each movie ranks in comparison to the others.
# 3: Dunkirk: 7/10
Dunkirk is the latest movie from writer/director Christopher Nolan, retelling the events of 330,000 soldiers being rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk in World War 2. In my opinion, Christopher Nolan is one of the best, most influential, and stylistic filmmakers working right now. With the likes of the Dark Knight Trilogy, Memento, the Prestige, Interstellar, and Inception; he has proven himself as a very competent director, and an almost better writer. The majority of his movies, as well as being very visually engaging, are also very well written. His stories blur the line between right and wrong, as well as require a certain amount of thought to fully grasp the depths of his expressions. Nolan as a filmmaker and writer is very philosophical and makes the audience really critique themselves and the people around them. Knowing all of this and having him fairly high on my list of favorite directors, going into this movie, I was very excited. However, at the end of the day, I was a little disappointed.
First of all, to anyone reading this that was shocked by my previous statement, let me just say this: the film was in no way a bad film, and is much better than other movies I have seen, even movies coming out now. However, going into the theater with the expectation of Nolan bringing his signature storytelling he used in movies like the Dark Knight and Inception, as well as his signature style prevalent in all his movies, I felt that it was lacking in the former. While I could definitely tell by the look and cinematography of the movie that it was directed by Nolan, I felt like someone else wrote the story for him, and in some regards someone did. Well, more of something. History. I’ve heard people praise the film for it’s “historical accuracy”, and while that is an interesting thing to see in films, I honestly don’t care. I honestly do not care how close anyone gets to what really happened in any story they are telling. Whether it be a book, film or TV, writers and directors as artists do NOT, in my opinion, need to adhere religiously to every event that happened in a certain situation. It is not a storyteller’s job to teach you history in a simple way because you didn’t already know it or are too lazy to actually learn about it. Stories are told for entertainment, style, and expression. I did not go into the movie wanting to know exactly what happened on the beaches of Dunkirk; rather, I went into the movie wanting to see how Christopher Nolan TOLD the story of what happened. If I wanted to know the minute details, I would have watched a documentary. Writers and directors, and anyone else involved in the creative process, should not be forced to stay within the small box of “historical accuracy” as it puts boundaries on their ability for creative expression. When one begins to limit creative expression, they are essentially limiting art. Once art is limited, there is no room for difference in thought or opinion. In addition to that, I heard people almost treat the movie as if it would’ve been bad if it had not adhered to history. Which, is not fair to me. There are plenty of films out there that are classics that are not 100% historically accurate; Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, Pearl Harbor, 300, Shakespeare in Love, and Pocahontas. In some ways, movies that are “historically inaccurate” can actually be better, as creative freedom is given to writers and directors to make the story more interesting for the screen. A lot of things that happened throughout history were not very exciting, especially not exciting enough to entertain a general public for 2 hours. The same general public, however, that gets bored by a 2 hour movie.
Anyway, now that I have finished advocating for the abolishment of adhering to history, unless that’s what the director wants to do, I feel as if I can get into the pros and cons of the movie. Because this movie is written and directed by Nolan, it’s objectively good, and I will not argue with you about that. It is a very competent film that clearly shows Nolan’s knowledge in stylistic and storytelling directing. The score by Hans Zimmer was amazing, as it usually is, and I really enjoyed the watch ticking in the background as a means of adding suspense to the story as it reflected the actual suspense the soldiers felt as the Germans grew closer. The continuous ticking begins to get so ingrained in your mind that when it stops, because the soldiers are finally safe, it is a shock to the viewer, just as safety is a shock to the soldiers. I enjoyed the choice Nolan took to never show a German soldier, unlike other war movies, as it adds suspense and dehumanizes them. The scenes that took place in the planes were very good and I enjoyed them a lot. Finally, I want to touch on the signature “Nolan three scene intercutting”. Basically, if you do not know what I am referring to, in the majority of Nolan movies, he will cut between three scenes during the climax of each for added suspense and sometimes a grasp of the character. For example, in 2008’s The Dark Knight, there is a scene where there are three people that the Joker places DNA on his own card: the judge, the police commissioner, and DA Harvey Dent. Lt. Gordon and Officer Ramirez believe that these three are the ones that the Joker will target for his next attack, and they are right. So, Gordon visits the commissioner and Ramirez is sent to guard the judge, and Dent is at a party that Bruce Wayne (AKA: Batman) is throwing. As Gordon arrives and is telling the commissioner the situation, the judge is shown being given a package by two men about where to go, and Dent is talking to girlfriend, Rachel. When the commissioner asks Gordon how the Joker got his DNA, Gordon pieces together that it was someone from his office and tries to stop the commissioner from drinking from the glass he just poured, which turns out to be poisoned, this is then cut to the judge in her car opening the package that the men told her “where she was going”, when the package is opened, a piece of paper with the word “up” is written and her car blows up, this is then cut to Dent talking about Bruce as he sneaks up behind Dent, knocks him out, and puts him in a safe place before the Joker shows up. This intercutting, plus the intensifying score, work together to add suspense to the scene. Nolan is typically known for his adding of suspense and how it relates to the story. Typically I enjoy intercutting between scenes, and I personally think Nolan is a master at it and does it well in Dunkirk. However, I chose to mention this because while I enjoyed it, it also held me back from other aspects to the point that it was a negative.
Many people in a common audience enjoyed the intercutting between scenes because they felt enlightened because they enjoyed it and understood what was going on. As I said before, for the most part, I am all for using intercutting… In moderation. The reason the scene from the Dark Knight worked was because it was 1 scene. While there may be a couple more throughout the film, it was never to the point that it was the entire movie like it was in Dunkirk. Because the entire movie is intercutting between 3 different locations and characters, there is almost no suspense because the whole thing is in suspense, if that makes sense. For the most part, intercutting between scenes is used to show a number of situations that are supposed to be happening at the same time. Because one situation happens over the span of a week, another over one day, and the final over one hour, none of these are happening at the same time, until the final that all three situations and their characters come together. Since it is not taking place at the same time, a lot of the cuts to other scenes are very jarring as it takes the viewer time out of the film to figure out where they are in the timeline. Another issue I had with the movie is that there was almost no character in anyone in the entire movie. Because there was so much intercutting, there was no time or room to add character development to anyone. A lot of characters do not have names, and one of the main characters is credited as “Shivering Soldier”. I understood why Nolan chose to do the movie that way, full of intercutting and almost no character, but at the same time, I don’t. I get the desire to show that in war there are so many people, many of which are anonymous to other soldiers as well as the public they are defending, and that the British army as a unit was 1 character. But lack of character in a war movie is why war movies like the Longest Day aren’t very compelling, while movies like Saving Private Ryan stick with people for a long time. Because we are shown the humanity of the few in a group, we feel for the ones that die in and out of the group. Since audiences have seen the plights of Captain Miller, they identify when he goes into shock, but because none of the characters in Dunkirk are expanded on, I sort of don’t care that (SPOILER) the kid falls down the stairs and dies or the pilot crashes or some soldiers are shot at. Sure, I can convince myself in the moment to FEEL worried, but it is not genuine and it is not anything that will linger with me, or even help my experience of watching the movie. Another thing that Saving Private Ryan does better than Dunkirk is the action. While there are few action sequences in the movie, I felt like they were held back. Dunkirk is one of the movies I feel like could have done a lot better if they had made it rated R. A lot of scenes that did have action were almost unrealistic because they were toned down to keep the PG-13 rating. Finally, earlier in the paragraph I said that there was not enough time or space to add character development to the movie. This is not true. The film in total is exactly 2 hours, including credits, which general audiences don’t sit through anyway, which is almost nothing compared to the fact that the majority of Nolan films ring in close to three hours long. I feel as if this movie could have benefitted even from an extra 30 minutes to add depth to the characters.
In conclusion, this is a good, not great, movie and I enjoyed it as well as think it is an interesting turn on the typical war movie. I do feel as if this is a good addition to Nolan’s filmography, but serves more as a stepping stone for newcomers to grasp his style before tackling giantly themed movies like Inception and Interstellar. However, the movie just did not connect with me. I don’t know if it was the intercutting that rubbed me the wrong way, the lack of character, the unrealistic battles, or even the lack of Nolan’s signature storytelling, I just know that as I was walking out of the theater, I was a little disappointed and I thought there should have been more. You are not wrong for enjoying the movie, and I see how you can, this is just how I felt about it.
PS. The next movie I saw this summer that I was going to talk about was Spider-Man Homecoming. However, fellow writer Lauryn Jackson wrote an article on it and took some of the words out of my mouth. If you have not already read her article you should. But anyway. I am going to do a short review right here.
#2: Spider-Man Homecoming: 7/10
Tom Holland does a good job at portraying both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, something the previous incarnations did not do so well, (in my opinion Tobey Maguire played a good PP, and Andrew Garfield a good S-M). He did capture the essence of an awkward sophomore juggling different things, and the twist towards the end, while I lowkey predicted it, was kinda shocking in a good way. The action was good and the relationship between Tony Stark and Peter was nice. I enjoyed the ability to make Peter learn and take responsibility for his actions, while keeping Stark from taking over the movie.
However, the movie is not perfect. To me, I did not feel like Tom Holland acted very well. This could possibly be because he IS a lot younger and is actually closer to the character and just acted like himself. Andrew Garfield is by far the best actor of the 3, however his 2 movies in the Spidey-Suit weren’t very well written, which is not his fault. Marc Webb, the director of the Amazing Spider-Man movies, did the best job, to me, at portraying the love interest between Peter and the apple of his eye. The scenes of Peter and Gwen, played by the brilliant Emma Stone, are amazing when compared to the other 2 versions, including Homecoming. In my opinion, Michael Keaton as the Vulture was neither well acted nor very compelling. Also, Peter’s best friend got to be a little annoying towards the end. One thing that the Sam Raimi version of Spider-Man perfected was the characters throughout. It is a much more emotional and heart warming version of each character, something I didn’t really see in the newest version.
While the new Spider-Man is better than half of the other movies, at the end of the day, it was still a Marvel Studios movie, a studio known for not delving deep into emotional aspects and character development. Here’s how it stands in comparison to the other Spider-Man movies:
1: Spider-Man 2 (2004)
2: Spider-Man (2002)
3: Spider-Man Homecoming (2017)
4: Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
5: Spider-Man 3 (2007)
6: Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
While I love the character of Spider-Man and all of the movies up there, that is how I feel the movie stacks up against the others. However, Homecoming and Amazing Spider-Man could be switched depending on the day and how I feel. This might just because I am biased towards Andrew Garfield as he is one of my favorite actors working right now. Anyway. Homecoming is good, I’d recommend it. I know a lot of people would enjoy it, this is just how I felt about it.