Critic Consensus: Dunkirk serves up emotionally satisfying spectacle, delivered by a writer-director in full command of his craft and brought to life by a gifted ensemble cast that honors the fact-based story.
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Critic Reviews for Dunkirk
Few films have stripped war down to its terrifying, thrilling essence as Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, and few films have turned war into such an overwhelming, almost physical experience.
Nolan's sense of memory and of history is as flattened-out and untroubled as his sense of psychology and of character.
It isn't a standard war movie, but it sure is some beautiful, difficult thing.
Occasional bursts of flames, imperiling many of the effectively nameless characters, come as a relief from the chromatic tedium.
Audience Reviews for Dunkirk
Extremely powerful and exciting war movie about the evacuation during WW2. Driven by a non-chronological narrative in three point of views, the breathless editing and a nerve-wracking score the film delivers several nail-biting sequences and a very powerful and emotional ending. The cast mostly relies on no names and very few stars, all bringing very convincing performances to the table. Additionally, the film is beautifully shot. Another masterpiece by Nolan and a highlight of the genre.
Christopher Nolan's latest offering is an accurate representation of an event that occurred in 1940 during WWII. British, Belgian and French troops were cut off within Dunkirk, surrounded by advancing German troops. The allies were literally fish in a barrel to the German forces. They were stranded, being attacked from both land and air with the sea to their backs, nowhere to run. Situated in Northern France, Dunkirk was the location of the massive evac operation which saw large numbers of British civilians man their own vessels in order to assist with the rescue. Up to 400 various manned craft were voluntarily used and braved the English Channel along with various military vessels. Despite the fact that German forces had halted their crushing advance on Dunkirk (giving the Allies some time to organise the evac), the Luftwaffe were still hitting the port and its beaches and enemy troops were still on the ground. Nolan's film tells the story of Dunkirk from separate angles, land sea and air. The first angle is from a young British private called Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) who has survived a recent German ambush and has made his way to the beaches. We follow Tommy as he tries to get on-board a couple ships only for them to be sunk by German attacks. Tommy eventually ends up back on the beaches with some Scottish soldiers and a French soldier. The second angle is from RAF pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) and two other Spitfire pilots who are part of the British airborne resistance against the German bombers. And the third angle is from a Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter and his sons best friend George. All of whom have volunteered to help in the rescue with the aid of Mr. Dawson's yacht. First off Nolan's film is not like most traditional films. There is very little dialog throughout the entire runtime; instead Nolan relies on pure visuals and the musical score to convey the films atmosphere. That is where the film may be problematic for many people, this isn't a war movie filled with blood, guts, gun battles and explosions. Obviously if you know about the actual historical event then you would know to expect this. The most dialog comes from the story surrounding Mr. Dawson and his son Peter, second to that would probably be Tommy's story, then lastly and most obviously is Farrier's story which is almost entirely conveyed through Tom Hardy's facial expressions. Now whilst I did fully appreciate Nolan's vision here, I have to admit to finding it somewhat odd watching a movie like this with little dialog. Looking at Farrier's story (the air section), it was indeed very impressive to watch these old Spitfires dogfight with German Messerschmitt's. Naturally it wasn't shot in the typical Hollywood action sequence type way. What you get are highly realistic air sequences which show the planes trying to manoeuvre into position to be able to attack each other. When the attacks come they are short bursts with very little fanfare. When a plane gets hit nothing much happens at first. The pilots communications are brief and not filled with silly quips. Basically overall it kinda feels like you're watching some kind of airshow display or training video, the fact everything is shot in natural light kinda adds to that. The story surrounding Tommy is probably the most Hollywood-esque part of the movie, but it still may not please some. Once again this is a highly realistic vision, there are no 'Saving Private Ryan' sequences on this beach. The plot is straight forward, Tommy and another soldier try to board ships by using an injured soldier as their ticket essentially. That seems almost wrong but in the grand scheme of things who wouldn't do that? The fact that they try to get away twice and both times the ships are sunk did seem almost too unlucky to me. The fact that later on they reach another ship and yet again it gets sunk, kinda felt a bit overly dramatic perhaps. Did that many ships get sunk in the real event? Tommy's tale certainly has the most cinematic visuals of the film, the numerous shots of the troops lined up on the beach are incredibly haunting, yet beautiful. Its easily the most intriguing of the three main plots but at the same time its also a bit too 'Spielbergian' methinks. When Tommy meets up with the Scottish soldiers things get a tad by the numbers and a little dull. I also felt the death of the French soldier (who was thought to be a Brit) was again a little touch of Hollywood which maybe wasn't required. It was too predictable, the minute he is exposed as French you kinda knew his number was up. I should add that whilst all this is going on we get little snippets of Kenneth Branagh as a Commander overseeing the operation from the beach. Again like Hardy he tends to emote through facial expressions more than dialog. For me the weakest of the stories was following Mr. Dawson and his son. Call me shallow but this was simply because it wasn't really that interesting. I found myself yearning for the plot to get back to the beaches, or in the air with Farrier. Don't get me wrong, Mark Rylance puts in a great performance as the calm and steadfast Dawson, and its important to see the civilian angle of this story. The thing is it just wasn't really that intriguing watching this trio sale slowly towards Dunkirk. The subplot of them rescuing a stranded officer (Cillian Murphy) from a shipwreck was also something of an odd addition. Murphy's officer is shell-shocked, he argues about going to Dunkirk and tries to stop Dawson. This leads to George (Peter's best friend) falling and badly injuring his head...which leads to his eventual death! I really didn't see the point in all this because it goes nowhere. Dawson and Peter lie to the shell-shocked officer about it and that's kinda that. Neither Dawson or Peter came across as upset when the incident occurred or when George dies. You're left wondering what happens with that. Does the officer get done for murder upon return to England? Would he be let off because of the fact he was shell-shocked? Would I say this is one of the greatest war films ever made? In terms of realism yes. In terms of score, cinematography and craftsmanship yes. In terms of engagement (for me the viewer) I'd say its up there, but maybe not the best. I totally and utterly shower praise on Nolan and co for their vision and what they have achieved here, the authenticity being the number one factor of course (score not far behind). But I cannot deny the film is a little slow at times. I hate myself for saying this but I did find myself yearning for just a touch of romanticised heroism or emotion just to get those waterworks going. The final sequence showing Farrier taking out one last German bomber before he is forced to land in enemy territory from lack of fuel, was so fecking awesome. Seeing the Spitfire land in one shot on the Dunkirk beach was fantastic, as was seeing a stoic Farrier stare into the camera as he is captured and led away. But dagnabbit Chris, I just needed a hint, a mere drop of glossy sentimentality. The film was [b]so[/b] realistic that it didn't really feel like a film at times (again I hate myself for saying this). But bottom line, this film is a tour de force that ignores manufactured heroics and stereotypical Hollywood-isms.
It's now fair to say that Christopher Nolan has become a director that instils huge anticipation when he announces a new film project. He's equally adept at providing low-key, personal, thrillers like Memento and Insomnia and more than proved his worth with big-budget spectacles like The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and Interstellar. It's fitting then that he tackle a war drama - a genre that demands an element of both approaches. After Steven Spielberg shell-shocked us with Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malick encouraged us to ruminate and philosophise with The Thin Red Line, anyone treading the same ground had huge boots to fill. On this occasion, Nolan does an admirable job but I'd have to be honest and say that he doesn't quite reach the high benchmark that had already been set by these contemporary films. Plot: In May 1940, WWII, the German army advanced into France, surrounding 400,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Using every means possible, an evacuation plan took place that, if unsuccessful, meant the tide of the war would have almost certainly swung in the Nazi's favour and would've had worldwide implications. Where Malick and Spielberg excelled in the land battles of WWII, Nolan's biggest achievement is in the air or at sea and it seems to me that this was a safe and deliberate approach. The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan are hard to match in my view and Nolan is astute enough to know this. As expected, he goes big but although it sounds like a paradox, he also keeps the film very intimate as well. There are some impressive scenes on a huge scale but, to my surprise, Nolan focuses more on the intimacy of the men stuck in this horrendous battle for survival and that's ultimately where my surprise led to feelings of disappointment. Nolan keeps the running time fairly brief for a story of this magnitude but I couldn't help but feel there was more to tell here. It's hard to describe as this film really should've been something that I fully embraced. I normally love big spectacle war movies and I'm somewhat fascinated with the history of WWII but, with this in mind, Dunkirk left me a little cold. The script is threadbare, to say the least, and there isn't one particular character to pin any attachment to. The triptych nature of the film dedicates itself to the troops of the land, the sea and the air but, unfortunately, these three stories didn't quite come together as a whole. It felt disjointed and in some instances, incoherent, with neither one of the stories feeling like it had any real substance to it. I consider Malick's The Thin Red Line a masterpiece and Spielberg's effort just as much (minus the flag waving jingoism) and while Nolan had a similar opportunity here, Dunkirk lacked the emotional core that these two films so viscerally provided. Ultimately, Nolan comes to the table with a vision but fails to bring a script with him. At the time of writing this, I can't even remember one characters name. You could say that this was Nolan's intention in that it's a collective experience and no individual man is at the forefront but then why cast such recognisable actors as Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy only for them to be woefully underused? Hardy, in particular, spends the majority of his screen time with a mask on his face (The Dark Knight Rises, anyone?) while saying very little and although he's involved in the film's most impressive scenes while navigating the ariel battles in his Spitfire, these moments don't need an actor like him where he's unable to provide his usual gravitas. It's also a bit jarring that you're constantly reminded that it has a member of pop band One Direction. This is no criticism of Harry Styles - who happens to be quite decent - but why do it in the first place? As a visual spectacle, Nolan really provides the goods and he's aided immeasurably by the exemplary work of cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema with his stunningly captured landscapes in bringing a real vastness to the experience while Hans Zimmer's score compliments the visuals and contributes a tense and nail-biting vibe to the action. It's, undoubtedly, a beautifully shot film but it's not as the critics have described and I just feel that the story of Dunkirk could have been given a bit more justice. It's a good film but, sadly, I expected more. Nolan manages to take a moment in history - that I respect and care deeply about - but depicts it with characters I couldn't care less about. Mark Walker
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