Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk Brings-Out the Heavy Artillery

Published July 18th, 2017 - 08:53 GMT
Death. (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Death. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

It’s hard to not get excited for a new Christopher Nolan film. The English filmmaker’s earned his stripes making blockbuster superhero films like The Dark Knight trilogy, science-fiction mind-benders like Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014), and smaller films, like the innovative Memento (2000). In other words, his work’s always an event.

Dunkirk is coming-out this year. Apart from being a war film in PG-13 and starring Harry Styles, it’s Nolan’s first historical drama. It has a lot to prove, but, if the reviews are any indication, it’s proved it.

The Guardian, who I wouldn’t peg for liking this kind of film, was effusive, describing Dunkirk as Nolan’s “best film so far” and stating, “This is a powerful, superbly crafted film with a story to tell, avoiding war porn in favour of something desolate and apocalyptic, a beachscape of shame, littered with soldiers zombified with defeat, a grimly male world with hardly any women on screen...[Nolan] brings his own colossal and very distinctive confidence to this story. It’s a visceral piece of film-making.”

Vox was very impressed by the film as well: “In approaching the story [of the Battle of Dunkirk], Christopher Nolan sensed that it was more than a historical event. His extraordinary Dunkirk, a true cinematic achievement, backs off conventional notions of narrative and chronology as much as possible, while leaning headfirst into everything else that makes a movie a visceral work of art aimed at the senses: the images, the sounds, the scale, the swelling vibrations of it all. You can’t smell the sea spray, but your brain may trick you into thinking you can.”

Richard Roeper from The Chicago Sun-Times was happy, too: “This is an intense but not especially violent film. Nolan opted for a PG-13 rating and eschewed graphic scenes of bloodshed in favor of focusing on the emotional, psychological and spiritual challenges facing these young soldiers.”

The Independent liked the film, but hoped it would be a little deeper: “It's a staggering achievement but for some will verge on clinical, particularly as it wraps up in patriotic fervour toward the end. […] In spite of my want for deeper or more oblique notes in it, Dunkirk is an unbelievably assured and thrilling war film. Nolan is at the top of his game, and what a joy it is to watch him construct such grand scale filmmaking.”

The Village Voice thinks Dunkirk is the film Nolan was “born to make,” saying: “Nolan fully embraces the power of visual storytelling in Dunkirk. That requires a certain trust in the viewer. He’s always had a great eye, but he’s also been knocked in the past for deflating his drama with exposition, spelling things out too much. He may have taken these criticisms to heart: The amount of dialogue here could probably fit on a couple of pages, and much of it is either functional or macabre. (“The tide’s turning now.” “How can you tell?” “The bodies are coming back.”) Instead he uses perspective and keys on small details and gestures to build tension and advance the plot.”

Finally, Empire was, to put it mildly, in love with the movie: “Effectively one enormous, stunningly rendered and thunderously intense set-piece stretched to feature-length, Dunkirk thrusts you into a pressure cooker and slams the lid on. It doesn’t have anything like the gore of Saving Private Ryan, but that doesn’t lessen its power. In fact, there’s a very good reason it doesn’t have a more fulsome runtime: audiences would likely have staggered out with PTSD.”

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