Let me start by saying that I loved “Dunkirk” and found it to be incredibly compelling and visually stunning. If you disagree then you’ll probably disagree with the contents of this article–no hard feelings.

War movies are incredibly hard to make. For every classic war film, there are a dozen failed attempts by directors that try to push two simple things: action filled sequences followed by an anti-war agenda. The great war movies acknowledge the complexities of war, take the tactical parts seriously, and focus on doing justice to the characters as they navigate these life changing events–without over-dramatizing their reactions.

But as time has gone on, we’ve seen some great war movies and many of them have the same themes. From the Vietnam classics like “Platoon,” “Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now” to the more recent ones like “Saving Private Ryan,” “We Were Soldiers” and “Black Hawk Down.” Many of these films have the same theme: war is brutal and it can eat away at your soul, but the brotherhood of soldiers can be the glue that keeps everyone alive–physically and spiritually. To show that, these films often show the gruesome reality of what war really is, makes the audience realize the mortality of “strong” characters, and breaks everyone down to the foundations of their own humanity. By the end, they often realize that all they had out there was each other. “Band of Brothers” successfully brought these themes to television in an incredible, unforgettable way. These films aren’t formulaic–that’s how it is in real life, in my experience anyway.

Few movies show how young soldiers are in real wars

So the talented director Christopher Nolan decides that he wants to make a war movie. From day one, it sounds like he realized that war movies have been done, and done well, time and time again. In his mind, and rightfully so, “Saving Private Ryan” was at the top of the list. He went to his friend Steven Spielberg, director of “Saving Private Ryan,” and asked him for some advice.