The first reviews for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming WWII survival film Dunkirk have released, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. Nolan spent the vast majority of his career developing The Dark Knight Trilogy, which has since gone down as one of the greatest trilogies in cinema history, yet he never stopped pursuing original films, such as The Prestige, Inception, and Interstellar. However, since the start of his career, Nolan has always wanted to make a movie based on the Battle of Dunkirk.
For those that don’t know, the Battle of Dunkirk and its subsequent evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, was an extraordinary departure of 400,000 soldiers from Dunkirk, France between May 26 and June 4, 1940. The miraculous evacuation is a story that many Europeans know, and it’s something that Nolan has wanted to bring to life on the big screen for quite some time. In order to capture the full scale of the battle and evacuation, the film is being told from three different perspectives — from the air, the land, and the sea — which has been evident through all the movie’s marketing materials.
Last week, the first social media reactions to Nolan’s Dunkirk emerged online, and the consensus was overwhelmingly positive. Now, the first reviews have released, and the critical consensus seems to fall in-line with previous reactions, with many critics hailing the film as an unconventional masterpiece, one that doesn’t focus on the traditional horrors of war, yet expertly communicates the terror of those involved in the evacuation. You can read SPOILER-FREE excerpts from selected reviews below, with links back to the original reviews, if you’re interested in reading the full reviews.
THR – Todd McCarthy
Dunkirk is an impressionist masterpiece. These are not the first words you expect to see applied to a giant-budgeted summer entertainment made by one of the industry’s most dependably commercial big-name directors. But this is a war film like few others, one that may employ a large and expensive canvas but that conveys the whole through isolated, brilliantly realized, often private moments more than via sheer spectacle, although that is here too. Somber, grim and as resolute in its creative confidence as the British are in this ultimate historical narrative of having one’s back to the wall, this is the film that Christopher Nolan earned the right to make thanks to his abundant contributions to Warner Bros. with his Dark Knight trilogy. He’s made the most of it.
IGN – Daniel Krupa
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 – Peter Debruge
Steven Spielberg laid claim to the Normandy beach landing, Clint Eastwood owns Iwo Jima, and now, Christopher Nolan has authored the definitive cinematic version of Dunkirk. Unlike those other battles, however, this last was not a conventional victory, but more of a salvaged retreat, as the German offensive forced a massive evacuation of English troops early in World War II. And unlike those other two directors, Nolan is only nominally interested in the human side of the story as he puts his stamp on the heroic rescue operation, offering a bravura virtual-eyewitness account from multiple perspectives — one that fragments and then craftily interweaves events as seen from land, sea and air.
EW – Chris Nashawaty
By the end of Dunkirk, what stands out the most isn’t its inspirational message or everyday heroism. It’s the small indelible, unshakeable images that accumulate like the details in the corner of a mural. A PTSD soldier walking into the surf to his death. The sight of a hit German plane silently pinwheeling down into the sea like a paper airplane. The female nurses handing out tea and comforting words to the haunted men when they’re rescued. This is visceral, big-budget filmmaking that can be called Art. It’s also, hands down, the best motion picture of the year so far.
The Wrap – Alonso Duralde
Christopher Nolan makes pop movies that aspire to be art — and vice versa — and he has perhaps never served his twin goals as successfully as he does in “Dunkirk.” In telling the story of the rescue of hundreds of thousands of blockaded Allied forces in the early days of World War II, Nolan has crafted a film that’s sensational in every sense of the word; it aims for both the heart and the head, to be sure, but arrives there via the central nervous system.
Nolan once again proves himself to be one of the industry’s best filmmakers, and his continual use of IMAX cameras — which reportedly accounted for up to 80 percent of the total footage — further elevated the tension and thrill, while also providing greater scope for audiences. Furthermore, the film’s attention to detail, as well as its major focus on authenticity, helps provide audiences with a more profound experience than they likely would have had with a movie filled with CGI, though that doesn’t mean this film doesn’t feature its fair share of visual effects.
Despite all of his success, Nolan has never been nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards, and judging by the early reviews, it sounds like Dunkirk just might be the movie that puts him in contention in the highly-coveted category. After all, war epics have a tendency for capturing the attention of the Academy.
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