It is extremely hard to resist comparisons between Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk. Both landmark real-life WW II dramas on French beachheads. As a movie experience, Saving Private Ryan is a bar that cannot be easily breached, even by Dunkirk.
Where as Spielberg’s telling rides on the much-served memory of the Americans prevailing with the D Day landings, Nolan’s Dunkirk stands-out for what the director does to salvage a lesser-known Operation that ended in an ego-shattering blow to the allies, with an extra hard blow reserved for Britain.
In what can best be spun as a retreat, Christopher Nolan asks to be compared with Saving Private Ryan for reasons unconnected to the events around Dunkirk and more for the art of filmmaking. Nolan takes on a handicap and turns it around with the simplicity of a single purpose and the dexterity of his writing for the screen.
Bereft of any dramatic high points of the Normandy landings, the legendary historical context, the scale human tragedy and a single human face to show for, Nolan stays on the heroics of five men, possessing vastly differing shades of courage (or lack of), putting themselves on the line for the next man.
Of course, these stories could have withered without the emotional stakes get drawn into and physical perils we are pushed into. In many parts when a German airplane does a bombing run, I could feel the shivers.
Dunkirk is a stunning anti-war war film that grabs you by your neck from the first frame and when it relents, it is only to allow you to ponder the depths of the human capacity to survive.