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‘Dunkirk’ Reviews: What the Critics Are Saying

The early reviews of “Dunkirk” are in, and critics seem to be singing director Christopher Nolan’s praises.

Hitting theaters this Friday, Nolan’s World War II epic is currently averaging 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, thanks to overwhelmingly positive reviews.

Critics almost unanimously complimented Nolan’s ability to seamlessly interweave the Allied evacuation from three different perspectives: land, air, and sea. They also applauded the filmmaker’s decision to cast an ensemble of newcomers (Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Jack Lowden) alongside pop star Harry Styles, who is making his film acting debut.

The drama has already stirred up significant buzz, set to open with the widest 70MM release in 25 years. One thing is clear based on early reviews — and that’s that Nolan’s vivid storytelling is likely make him a serious Oscar contender, with Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty calling “Dunkirk,” “easily the best movie of the year so far.”

Here’s what critics have said about “Dunkirk”:

Variety‘s Peter Debruge:

“Take away the film’s prismatic structure and this could be a classic war picture for the likes of Lee Marvin or John Wayne. And yet, there’s no question that the star here is Nolan himself, whose attention-grabbing approach alternates among three strands, chronological but not concurrent, while withholding until quite late the intricate way they all fit together. 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.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty:

“Nolan has for all intents and purposes conjured the British response to Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ If you can imagine that film’s kinetic, nerve-wracking 29-minute opening D-Day invasion stretched out to feature length, this is what it would look like. It’s a towering achievement, not just of the sort of drum-tight storytelling we’ve come to expect from the director of ‘Memento,’ ‘The Dark Knight,’ and ‘Inception,’ but also of old-school, handmade filmmaking. 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.”

Indiewire’s David Ehrlich:

“Cleaving closer to Sartre than Spielberg, ‘Dunkirk’ is a stunning work of raw spectacle that searches for order in the midst of chaos. It’s the most contradictory film that Christopher Nolan has ever made, and — not incidentally — also the best. Nolan jumbling unknowns together with mega-celebrities in order to stress the egalitarian nature of being left to die. Combat experience isn’t required to appreciate how everyone fights their own war, how the grunts who got mowed down on Normandy Beach had as much to live for as the generals who sent them to the slaughter. Accordingly, ‘Dunkirk’ doesn’t judge these lads for their desperation, nor for the lengths to which it takes them. In fact, his film is enormously forgiving when it comes to the fevers of war, empathetic towards self-protection even as it celebrates the virtues of solidarity.”

Associated Press’s Lindsey Bahr:

“Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ is a stone cold masterpiece. It’s a stunningly immersive survival film told in 106 thrillingly realized minutes. Nolan puts the viewer right in the action whether it’s on the beach with 400,000 men queued up and waiting for a rescue that may never come, on the waters of the English Channel in the little civilian ship headed into hostile waters with only an aging man and two teenage boys aboard, or in the air above in the two lone Spitfires that are quickly running out of fuel. The screen and images envelope you with urgency, dread and moments of breathtaking beauty and grace as you wait with the soldiers, as the title card at the beginning says, for deliverance.”

The Wrap’s 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.”

Village Voice’s Bilge Ebiri:

“The nerve-racking war thriller ‘Dunkirk’ is the movie Christopher Nolan’s entire career has been building up to, in ways that even he may not have realized. He’s taken the British Expeditionary Force’s 1940 evacuation from France, early in World War II — a moment of heroism-in-defeat that has become an integral part of Britain’s vision of itself — and turned it into a nesting doll of increasingly breathless ticking-clock narratives.”

Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips:

“With a bare minimum of dialogue, and a brutal maximum of scenes depicting near-drowning situations in and around Dunkirk, France, in late May and early June 1940, Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ is a unique waterboarding of a film experience.”

USA Today’s Brian Truitt:

“Nolan’s feat is undeniable: He’s made an immersive war movie that celebrates the good of mankind while also making it clear that no victory is without sacrifice.”

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