Operatic, propulsive, powerful – three words you’ll find peppered across the first wave of glowing reviews for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.
As a matter of fact, some critics have even gone so far as to suggest that Nolan’s WWII epic, one which projects the heroics of Operation Dynamo on the biggest canvas possible, is the director’s greatest achievement to date. High praise indeed for a filmmaker whose body of work includes the jaw-dropping spectacle of Inception and mind-bending science fact of Interstellar. And that’s before you even begin to consider his genre-defining work within The Dark Knight Trilogy.
We’ve cherry-picked a handful of review samples for you to peruse, which ought to give you a better idea of what to expect when the lights go down on July 21st. They’re all relatively spoiler-free, too, though Dunkirk is a little different from the norm in that Nolan’s latest (greatest?) is based on historical events. Those events went on to shape World War II, and even to this day, the Miracle of Dunkirk, which involved rescuing upwards of 400,000 troops from the war-torn beaches of northern France, is considered one of the biggest and most complex military operations ever attempted. So it’s no wonder Warner Bros. selected Christopher Nolan for the gig.
Empire: A spare, propulsive, ever-intensifying combat thriller, Nolan’s history lesson is both a rousing celebration of solidarity and the tensest beach-set film since Jaws.
The Guardian: Christopher Nolan eschews war porn for a powerful and superbly crafted disaster movie – starring Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and a decent Harry Styles – with a story to tell.
IGN: Dunkirk doesn’t dwell on the horror of war but instead successfully conveys the sheer terror of it all through both small, human acts and deafening scenes of conflict. This isn’t a war story that leads to victory – that’s not what the story of Dunkirk is about – it was a retreat, an inglorious defeat. The war would continue for five more years. But through its miraculous events, Nolan and an outstanding cast of both young unknowns and veterans are able to depict not only the overwhelming, inhuman forces in play but the power of small acts of decency and bravery.
Variety: And in that nuance is the great accomplishment of Nolan’s feat: On one hand, he has delivered all the spectacle of a big-screen tentpole, ratcheting up both the tension and heroism through his intricate and occasionally overwhelming sound design, which blends a nearly omnipresent ticking stopwatch with Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score — not so much music as atmospheric noise, so bassy you can feel it rattling your vertebrae. But at the same time, he’s found a way to harness that technique in service of a kind of heightened reality, one that feels more immersive and immediate than whatever concerns we check at the door when entering the cinema. This is what audiences want from a Nolan movie, of course, as a master of the fantastic leaves his mark on historical events for the first time.
The Hollywood Reporter: All of Nolan’s films are intensely visual, but it’s fair to say that Dunkirk is especially so, given the sparseness, and strict functionality, of the dialogue. This is not a war film of inspirational speeches, digressions about loved ones back home or hopes for the future. No, it’s all about the here and now and matters at hand under conditions that demand both endless waiting and split-second responses. Hardy probably has a half-dozen lines in the whole picture and, given his mask, does most of his acting with his eyes, something at which he’s become very good indeed. Quite properly, though, no one stands out in the large cast; as required, everyone just does his job.
Dunkirk storms off the beaches and into theaters on July 21st, and there’s a good reason why Harry Styles is part of the star-studded cast.