Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” tells iconic story, falls short of expectations


The official poster for “Dunkirk” featuring actor Fionn Whitehead. Whitehead portrays a young British soldier who is the sole survivor of his group after being attacked by German forces in Dunkirk, France. Image source: Dinkirk’s Official Instagram.

Over 700 civilian boats. Over 300,000 lives saved. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk” tells the fictional story of a group of British soldiers based on the true historical events that occurred on the beaches of Dunkirk, France during World War II.

The movie is set in June 1940; France had surrendered to Nazi Germany, the rest of western Europe had fallen and Britain stood alone. The admirals and colonels leading the British soldiers and sailors in the film were acutely aware that if they failed here, Hitler would soon invade Britain. The thousands of British civilians who risked their own lives sailing to France to save these doomed soldiers were equally aware that the safety their nation rested in their hands.

The British used every single vessel that could be found to save not only their own soldiers, but their French allies as well. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 British and French soldiers were safely evacuated.

However, despite a storyline that is already incredible in itself, the film falls short in depicting the event of Dunkirk, largely due to the limited conversation between the characters. Although the lack of dialogue certainly disappoints, the cinematography does not. Rather, each scene is visually spectacular, and the movie is uniquely told from three perspectives: land, air and sea. Nolan follows these related points of view throughout the film.

These perspectives cover different points in time; the land portion of “Dunkirk” covers one week, the air one hour, and the sea, one day. The shots of the land, air and sea are wide and immersive — making the audience members feel as if they themselves are experiencing the plights of these characters: struggling to escape when your ship is capsizing, trying to prepare yourself for a plane crash, making the painful decision about who to take with you and who to leave behind. Also, the panoramic scenes of hundreds of thousands of soldiers waiting in lines on the beach somberly awaiting their fate are beautifully shot.

Although I rarely enjoy non-linear storytelling when it comes to movies, Nolan does succeed in letting the story unfold in jumbled time periods, and he is able to build tension and suspense throughout the movie. However, it becomes redundant after a while, and I was longing for more dialogue and connection between the characters. 

“Dunkirk” stars newcomer Fionn Whitehead, as well as Aneurin Barnard, Damien Bonnard, Kenneth BranaghMark Rylance, James D’Arcy and Tom Hardy. There are many other characters throughout the film who make appearances as well, but their names are rarely said in the movie. The main characters’ names are only said a few times, and I was unfamiliar with their names by the end of the movie. 

Furthermore, the character development of each person in the film is shallow and surface-level, and “Dunkirk” would have been far more impactful if the audience had some insight into each character’s mind and background. There was sparse dialogue, and although the visuals of young soldiers fighting for their lives and saving others are emotional, I would have appreciated more information about all of them.

Also, although the media highlighted Harry Styles’ role in the film, he barely appears on screen, with the exception of a few minor scenes. When he does, however, Styles shows no sign of being the boy band member we once knew, and he holds his own with the rest of the cast despite the lack of dialogue in the film.

Overall, “Dunkirk” is a solid film with striking cinematography, but it was not nearly as excellent as I had hoped. Currently, it is showing at several theaters in Los Angeles, including Westfield Century City and The Landmark at Westside Pavilion. “Dunkirk” is rated PG-13 for violence and language. 

  • Story
  • Acting
  • Technical Quality
  • Enjoyment
  • Impact


“Dunkirk” is a drama film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, depicting true historical events in a fictional narrative.