Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is the most effectively produced war movie I’ve seen in a long time.
There are a few things that characterize my time in the military but the one that probably was most consistent was that I was an “ops guy”. When I wasn’t leading an element in a military operation towards an objective, I was planning, coordinating or driving it from a command and control center. While I have no problem admitting that I wasn’t anyone’s first pick for a gun fight, it’s also fair to say that I was when it came to running an operation.
Nolan’s choice to show the miraculous retreat from the shores of Dunkirk in WWII from multiple, out of sequence perspectives, captured so much of the essence of what I remember from my time serving.
The trick to running a dynamic operation from the center, I always felt, was being able to hold multiple perspectives in your head. One needed to be able to see what those in the various elements of the operation saw as they were seeing them. To know what they knew and sometimes more importantly what they didn’t know. To feel the flow of the different parts, the urgency of the points of friction, both planned and unplanned. To see the whole problem, from the top down. All the while time and distance are a running clock in the background.
Dunkirk spends little on words and character development and everything on pace, perspective and a mathematical escalation of tension. The diminishing fuel of the pilot. The hidden, deadly enemy of the German torpedoes.
You see no enemy faces. Just the operational thermodynamics of time, pressure and distributed ignorance of the broader picture and hopes for success.