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
Occasional bursts of flames, imperiling many of the effectively nameless characters, come as a relief from the chromatic tedium.
The movie works. Time and again, the action swells and dips, like a wave, then suddenly delivers a salty slap in the face.
It is hard to imagine a better tribute to this victory of survival than Nolan's spare, stunning, extraordinarily ambitious film.
Technically awe-inspiring, narratively inventive and thematically complex, Dunkirk reinvigorates its genre with a war movie that is both harrowing and smart.
It's an extraordinary undertaking, and Nolan delivers a spellbinding ride. Out of the depths or man-made horror, he's created a gripping tale of human resolve.
Audience Reviews for Dunkirk
KEEP FRAZZLED AND CARRY ON - My Review of DUNKIRK (4 1/2 Stars) Gripping from its first incredible shot to its last, Christopher Nolan's DUNKIRK proves itself to be an astoundingly visceral, endlessly suspenseful, cinematic experience, a much-needed, but not widely known historical event that literally, much like D-Day, changed the shape of the world. This, despite its shortcomings. Early in World War II, the Nazis had pushed approximately 400,000 English and French troops to the shallow beaches of Dunkirk, France, where they became sitting ducks awaiting an improbable rescue. With the White Cliffs of Dover within their sights, the men had no safe way home as rescue ships could not come too close. Many waited either on the shore or on a long pier, easy pickings for the Luftwaffe. Churchill's plan involved a small contingent of his Air Corps to fight the German bombers while citizens with private boats were ordered to sweep in and save as many soldiers as possible. With so much of the Allied Forces gathered in one spot, it could easily have spelled doom for them and the entire world. We experience this story in three fractured segments, each with their own distinctive span of time. The beach segment takes place over a week's time, while the boat rescue is one day, and the air segment is one hour. Nolan is no stranger to fracturing time, and here by cross-cutting between the three storylines and sometimes playing scenes out of order, we're almost just as addled and confused as the protagonists. I suppose that's the point of the exercise, that and ratcheting up the suspense to an agonizing degree, but it leads to some confusion. Not helping matters much is the sound mix. I saw DUNKIRK in 70MM IMAX, which proves to be an intensely immersive experience and a great way to experience cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema's (INTERSTELLAR, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, HER) incredible images, literally one after the other a masterstroke. Hans Zimmer's score, a mix of orchestral and ticking clock effects, helps keep you on the edge of your seat, but it often drowns out the mostly unintelligible dialogue. Luckily, Nolan's visual storytelling talents mostly negate the need to comprehend it, but I would have preferred to hear Kenneth Branagh's expository lines, for example, with a little more clarity. Additionally, Nolan doesn't go to any great lengths to create any layered characterizations. We get a string of strong archetypes - the scrappy soldier, the traumatized sailor, the stalwart Commander, the stoic civilian. It all adds up to show the no b.s. resilience of the English people in the face of certain annihilation, and as such, it's collectively very moving. Our main protagonist of sorts, Tommy, played by Fionn Whitehead, forms an alliance with a other young men trying everything they can to get off that beach. It's harrowing stuff with hardly any letup. Every moment of quiet faces imminent chaos. When first seen, Tommy and a group of soldiers march down a Dunkirk street as Nazi propaganda fliers rain down on them telling them they're surrounded and will not survive. In an instant, their ability to do just that gets put to the test, and we're off and running. Tommy is eventually joined by an even more stoic soldier (Damien Bonnard) who finds every nook and cranny to squeeze into as bombs fall all around them. They meet up with another group, including Alex (ONE DIRECTION singer Harry Styles), who fits right into this sprawling canvas quite well. I thought Ed Sheehan worked just fine in GAME OF THRONES, so I guess I think English pop stars make for good actors and I'm not backing down from my stance! This weeklong escape is one action set piece after another and works so well. The image of Tommy bracing for impact as one bomb after another explodes towards him will certainly enter the pantheon of greatest film shots of all time. The perfect sound design here only enhances the perfection. Same can be said for the thousands of men on the pier ducking for cover every time an enemy plane approaches. Scenes in a rescue ship and a beached sailboat come loaded with tension similar to that in THE HURT LOCKER. Mark Rylance takes the lead in the civilian boat rescue section, helped by his son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and a young lad names George (impressive newcomer Barry Keoghan). During their rescue attempts, they encounter Cillian Murphy, a shellshocked sailor, who urges them to take him home instead of right back into the fray. It's relatively calmer than the main storyline, but illustrates the unbending resolve which allowed the English to persevere. Not without its own suspense and stakes, this segment broadens the canvas to allow anyone to relate to the struggle to survive. In the aerial sequences, Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden fly side-by-side, constantly aware of their fuel levels and believably confused by what's happening outside their narrow scope of vision. Nolan's longtime editor, Lee Smith, shines throughout, but in this particular segment, he outdoes himself. Alfred Hitchcock famously taught us that by letting the audience in on the placement of a ticking bomb, the suspense is sustained, whereas a sudden boom shocks for a second. The "bomb" here is Hardy's ever dwindling gas tank. With exciting dogfights and one surprise after another, it would be enough for any other film. With the added knowledge that his plane could fall from the sky at any moment, it's truly unnerving. It's also a very unpredictable storyline, leading to an unexpected, complicated conclusion. Side note: Why does Tom Hardy take so many roles where his face is covered up?!!! DUNKIRK feels like the culmination of every movie Nolan has made before. You can see with THE DARK KNIGHT and INCEPTION how he played with structure, narrative and montage. MEMENTO trafficked in a non-linear timeline. By applying his style to an actual event, Nolan's aesthetic achieves much more power. Amidst a cacophony of gunfire, bombs, sound effects, and score, he achieves a type of intimacy. We project ourselves onto these opaque characters. It's almost an experimental film, yet becomes a little gooey and expository at the end. I think he wanted some form of release and clarity after such a rattling, almost abstract 100 minutes. I can't fault him for it, as the ending feels beautifully complete. Imagine if Terence Davies, who so wonderfully captured England during the WWII era with DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES, were to make an action film. His impressionistic style just might look like the singular but flawed DUNKIRK.
It's hard to go into a Christopher Nolan movie without having high expectations, and those expectations aren't met every time. Nolan approaches the subject matter with a blazing level of skill and mastery of his craft, making Dunkirk one of his best movies. With that being said, do not go into this expecting an emotional roller coaster like Saving Private Ryan. Nolan made it with the intention of it being mysterious and as realistic as possible, told from multiple perspectives: but this was done at the cost of a cohesive storyline, which, if certain tweaks were made, could have made Dunkirk the best war movie ever made. There are three perspectives of the operation going on at once, which is a great idea, but it's presented in a non-linear manner. This makes it very had to make a clear sense of the overall journey of these soldiers. The IMAX format of the film is the loudest theater presentation I've ever experienced, making it in some ways a physically tiring experience. It's hard not to be moved by subtle things like an Allied fighter plane taking out an enemy aircraft while Hans Zimmer's flawless score kicks in; and that's more than enough. As soon as the first bullet was fired, I had to shift in my seat to get comfortable, and I knew I was in for something amazing and extremely intense. I haven't been this enthralled by a theater experience since Avatar, and Nolan did it without the aging concept of 3D technology. Dunkirk won't be remembered for it's performances or it's story, but for the overwhelmingly visceral combination of it's immersive action, tension, and amazing soundtrack. It would be a crime to miss it before it leaves the theater.
This film is under the categories of action, drama, history, and war, but there is one will definitely feel misleading to some. Yes, there is an aspect of war lingering throughout this film, but it's more of a survival story about men trying to go home from the war. Therefore, action/drama is simple enough to describe this movie. Dunkirk marks the latest in director Christopher Nolan's directorial library, and while it may not be his best film, there was clearly a lot of care put into this production and it shows in the final product. This is a fair warning though; If you go into this film hoping for characters that will make you cry, you've come to the wrong place. Here is why I believe Dunkirk is a masterpiece of a spectacle, but why it may also fail to hold onto some of its audience. Right off the bat, something felt off about the film after the first ten minutes. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of Dunkirk, I absolutely have to address the elephant in the room. This is a film about the survival of many men on a beach, trying to get home. That's all this film gives you as a viewer, so it would seem right to include a few more lines of dialogue than what the film provides. Sure, there are some great character moments, but solely in their expressions and how they're reacting to their surroundings. The biggest issue this film suffers from is the fact that you can't really latch onto anyone, and if any one of them were to bite the dust, it's very hard to shed a tear for them, or even care that much. Yes, the entire film itself is saddening, but that's not enough in my opinion. Nevertheless, Dunkirk is a masterful achievement in filmmaking, so don't get me wrong here. When it comes to Christopher Nolan, he never shy's away from the scope and spectacle of his films. This being a film with very few locations, while also having to make it feel like there were over 300,000 men present on the beach, it seemed near impossible to create something that felt so enormous. As always though, writer/director Christopher Nolan has built a another film that feels larger than life. From the IMAX scope, to the incredible sound design, to the brisk pacing from start to finish, this is a movie that doesn't let up and sucks you into every situation, regardless if you feel for the characters or not. This is more about the experience than anything, and to be quite honest, it's one of the best experiences I've had on the big screen in quite some time. Without giving too much away, Dunkirk does play with time a little, leaving a few surprises for the audience to find if they're really paying attention to the actors. That's all I'll say, but it's done flawlessly. Cutting back and forth between the beach, the air, and some of the boats, the editing throughout this film was impeccably crafted. Just before a thrilling sequences starts to wear thin, it cuts to an intense aerial sequence or to a character who is about to die. This film is all about the experience, and for that reason alone, it's near perfect in that regard. Films that cut back and forth to different scenarios so often sometimes bugs me, but if it's done in the best way possible, it works. Dunkirk works on many more levels than one. In the end, Dunkirk doesn't quite work as a complete film in my opinion, but it's perfect on every level if you look at it as experiencing an event unfold, so it's kind of a catch-22. All I can say upon reflection is that this is a film that's well worth seeing on the biggest screen that you possibly can. I found myself riveted throughout every sequence and although I didn't find myself invested in who was living or dying, I also don't think that was the point of the film either. If you go into this movie hoping to be blown away by tension and spectacle, you won't be disappointed in the slightest. In terms of entertainment and care put into this true event, Dunkirk receives a very solid grade in my book. I can't see it making my list of best films of the year, but I'll more than remember my experience if nothing else. I may seem to have gone back and forth throughout this review in terms of my opinion, but it's a great film overall, and I recommend it.
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