Dunkirk

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Dunkirk Movie Poster Image
Intense, challenging story shows the horrors of war.
  • PG-13
  • 2017
  • 106 minutes
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 50 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 97 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Even though the battle at Dunkirk resulted in many deaths, it also represents a triumph in heroism and courage: countless people worked together, risking their lives to help strangers.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mr. Dawson is perhaps the most recognizable character -- and the one most noted for his bravery and his sacrifices. While most other characters are deliberately stripped down (and, as a result, are somewhat thin), there's no question that many of them exhibit strengths like courage and teamwork.

Violence

Takes place during an intense, terrible WWII battle. Tons of realistic bombing and shooting. Not much blood shown, but countless soldiers die, often drowning or being swept into the sea. Soldiers burn in an oil fire on the water's surface. A teen has a fatal fall and dies. In the distance, a man walks into the ocean, presumably to commit suicide. Frequent peril/tension; many characters put themselves in danger to help others.

Sex
Language

At least two uses of "f--k." Plus "hell," "damn," a use of "Christ" (as an exclamation), and a possible use of "s--t" (hard to hear).

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Returning soldiers are rewarded with bottles of cold beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dunkirk is director Christopher Nolan's World War II movie about the real-life incident in which Allied forces were surrounded and trapped on Dunkirk beach -- and everyday heroes helped rescue them, despite the risk of danger and death. The movie's war violence is realistic and intense, with heavy bombing and shooting and many deaths (though very little blood). Planes crash in the ocean, ships fill with water and sink, and an oil slick catches fire, burning many soldiers. A teen civilian is injured, and a man walks into the ocean, presumably to commit suicide. Language includes two uses of "f--k" and one "Christ" (as an exclamation), and there's one scene with beer. Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Cillian Murphy co-star, but there are many characters, some of whom aren't clearly distinguished from others. That, plus Nolan's time-twisting technique, can make the story challenging to follow. But it has messages of bravery, teamwork, and sacrifice, and persistent teens and adults will be rewarded with a powerful, visceral experience.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJohnem95 July 21, 2017

WARNING: Very intense and very loud

Phenomenal film. Intense from start to finish. Inspiring story about not giving up hope, even when it feels far out of reach. Should be noted that if you are t... Continue reading
Adult Written byA K July 21, 2017

Good companion to high school history curriculum

Christopher Nolan's filmmaking will remind some parents of war films we watched, with images of real planes fighting rather than CGI, and a lack of gore in... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byLsalter1 July 21, 2017

Four Star War Movie

I think it is important (especially for kids) to understand that this is primarily a war movie. It is quite violent, there is a lot of death. I am giving it fou... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bymr_cinephile July 23, 2017

A Thrilling, Beautiful, and Gritty War Film.

Just like any other Nolan film, Dunkirk is dark, gritty, and action packed. The cinematography is beautiful, the action is choreographed really well (and its a... Continue reading

What's the story?

In DUNKIRK, it's 1940, and Allied soldiers in France are surrounded and forced onto the beach at Dunkirk. Amid the chaos, several English soldiers await some kind of transport back to England; at one point, they discover an abandoned, beached boat and hide inside to await high tide. Meanwhile, private English citizens who own boats have volunteered to cross the channel and pick up as many soldiers as they can carry. Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) is one of them; along with two boys, he rescues a downed fighter pilot (Cillian Murphy). But tragedy awaits. Then another fighter pilot (Tom Hardy) crosses the channel, carefully conserving his fuel, when an enemy plane attacks. Back at the beach, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) waits on the dock for help to arrive.

Is it any good?

Christopher Nolan's first history movie is bold, visceral, and powerful, with many moving sequences -- though some of his filmmaking choices can be challenging. As with some of Nolan's other movies (especially his great Memento), Dunkirk experiments with time. The story's three sections are told at different rates; the beach sequences take place over one week, the boat sequence takes one day, and the plane sequences take one hour. But unlike in Memento, here, this technique lacks clarity, mainly because Nolan doesn't visually distinguish between many of the aircrafts or ships, nor does he make it easy to tell many of the young soldiers apart.

Dunkirk wants us to follow two of the soldiers in particular, but that becomes increasingly difficult, especially as they get covered in dirt and grime. Many characters also have thick English accents (to a U.S. ear, anyway), and the sound mixing and Hans Zimmer's heavy score often drown out the dialogue. All this can make the movie tricky to follow, especially if you don't have the option of subtitles. Sometimes it seems that Nolan is deliberately trying to strip his story of traditional character arcs and dialogue, perhaps to find its essence. This doesn't always work, but Dunkirk is such an immediate horrors-of-war experience, throwing the viewer so vividly into the picture, that it's difficult to dismiss.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Dunkirk's violence. How does this kind of violence compare to what you might see in a superhero movie? Which feels more intense/has a bigger impact? Why? Does the fact that it's not especially bloody/gory affect your reaction?

  • Does the movie make war look heroic? Horrifying? How? Which of the characters are role models? Why? How do they demonstrate courage and teamwork? Why are those important character strengths?

  • How does Dunkirk compare to other war movies you've seen? Is it more realistic? If so, how does it achieve that?

  • Were you able to tell all the characters and their sea crafts apart? Do you think the fact that many were similar was a specific choice? If so, what do you think the purpose of that choice was? (Some say that it parallels the chaos of actual war.)

Movie details

Character Strengths

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Themes & Topics

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