Saw it a couple of days ago.
It’s not a patch on ‘Saving Private Ryan’ because, as you correctly say, that film has a definite story line and plot which follows the characters through from the beach landing to the final scene. The problem with, and deficiency in, Dunkirk is that it attempts through various devices to cover the evacuation of more than 300,000 soldiers and the associated small boat efforts and air battles from the British viewpoint by a series of unconnected vignettes focusing on a few undeveloped and unrepresentative characters. It’s a failure as a ‘based on fact’ fiction and as a documentary, and on any other basis apart from some impressive scenes of air and naval conflict.
I found it particularly offensive in starting the film and progressing it with a couple of soldiers, one of whom turns out to be French, who were effectively deserters trying to escape through the orderly troops lined up on the beach waiting for evacuation. Much the same with the possibly shell shocked or just cowardly 2nd Lt picked up by the small boat who repays his rescuers by killing one of them. Might have happened, but hardly representative of the vast majority of troops.
As a film which has anything to contribute to any understanding of Dunkirk, it’s at best a great spectacle and at worst a great insult to the vast majority of troops who evacuated in good order under very bad conditions, but no worse than millions of other soldiers endured in countless smaller groups in many wars and in even larger groups during WWII under even worse conditions, such as Stalingrad and Battle of the Bulge.
Overall, it’s just a nice piece of cinematic entertainment with lots of spectacles and a suitably noisy soundtrack without which it would have considerably less impact.
I don’t understand why it’s being hailed as the greatest film since ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or any other film, because it lacks plot, character development, character engagement, and just about everything else that a great film has.
Still, it’s certainly worth watching for entertainment.
Just don’t confuse it with anything that has much to do with the reality of the 300,000 plus troops who weren’t the deserters upon whom the bulk of the film focuses for flimsy dramatic effect as they try to steal aboard a ship with a hijacked casualty or cower in a grounded boat, both of which experiences were on the basis of the film that of about a dozen or so of the 300,000 plus troops on the beach.