The Greatest War Movie Ever Made

In July I saw “Dunkirk” on the IMAX screen in Surprise, AZ, during a visit to see my ailing father, and to take care of the endless business matters on his behalf that are now my responsibility. Today I saw “Dunkirk” again, in Natick, MA, at what is probably the most impressive of all IMAX installations. It was just me, my son, and only a few other patrons. It was quite an experience.

I am a big fan of Leonard Maltin, who is one of the few “old guard” film critics that is still actively reviewing movies. I enjoy his occasional live videos on Facebook, and I wish that Maltin’s annual movie guide were still being published. Taken from that guide is this capsule review of the 1958 Dunkirk movie:

“Near-epic dramatization of the rescue by the Royal Navy and small civilian craft of 300,000 British soldiers trapped on the French beach of the title in 1940. One of the last films of the famed Ealing studios. Very realistic, with a fine cast and good direction.”

And this is a snippet of Maltin’s less-than-enthusiastic review of the new telling of the Dunkirk tale:

“I didn’t expect a conventional history lesson from Nolan, but given the enormity of the Dunkirk story I did anticipate at least an overview, not just a series of vignettes.”

I understand Leonard’s point, but now that I’ve seen “Dunkirk” for the second time, for me it’s far better than any star-studded epic war movie from any previous era. This film is truly a stunning accomplishment, creating a sense of visceral realism unlike just about anything else I have ever seen, superior to even “Saving Private Ryan”, which got away from Spielberg after the famous opening sequence, and would have been better served by having a less familiar face than Tom Hanks.

When I was a kid, in school they used to show installments of the old “You Are There” TV series, which I genuinely enjoyed watching, but the historical depictions were about as lively and convincing as a Disney animatronic display. Stepping away from the old-style war movie storytelling, that typically alternated between battlefield scenes and generals plotting their next move in strategy meetings, was the right thing to do in “Dunkirk”. Nolan, who made “Memento” way back in 2000, employs another mixed-up timeline, but a second viewing of the film validates this technique as being very effective, forcing viewers to concentrate and line up the sequence of events in the series of vignettes that disappointed Maltin.

By taking full advantage of the movie-making technologies that are available today, I suppose the case can be made that, at least in parts, this a war movie for the video game set, but even if that’s true it conveys a vivid sense of being there and living through the terrifying experience. By avoiding an obvious history lesson, “Dunkirk” should inspire viewers to look for an historical overview of the events. This film is a remarkable achievement, and given recent events I feel it is something that would-be neo-Nazis should see to get their bearings on who the good guys are… and who the bad guys are.

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Blog of Douglas E. Pratt

One thought on “The Greatest War Movie Ever Made”

  1. As of right now it’s Oscar front-runner. Ironically CC is now available for all films not actually on film, which unfortunately excludes 70mm showings of Dunkirk. Doing everything I can to get Bobby to see it. Good to see you posting. Call me at you first convenience. MIH

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