With Christopher Nolan at the helm and a cast made up of the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, and Mark Rylance, it’s safe to say Dunkirk has received its fair share of pre-release hype. With a surprisingly short running time and an even more surprising appearance from Harry Styles, just how well does Dunkirk live up to these incredibly high expectations?
Our Phil sounded the 5 star klaxon for Dunkirk, saying: “It’s hard to believe it’s taken Christopher Nolan – a director fascinated with dissecting the human condition – this long to make a war movie, but Dunkirk was worth the wait. It’s a stunning film that ranks among the best of both his own filmography and the genre as a whole.”
Now the wider ORWAV team share their thoughts on Nolan’s latest offering.
James – 5/5
It’s a rare thing for cinema to be quite this immersive. From the very first minute to the last, you are right in the midst of war on land, at sea and in the air – with barely a chance to draw breath. Seen in IMAX, the roar of German bombers passing overhead rattles the seats and almost makes you duck.
With a stellar cast, Christopher Nolan here creates an experience over a story, favouring unrelenting tension over backstory. While another sublime Hans Zimmer score at times overpowers dialogue, Dunkirk is a taut, thrilling and emotional epic, and a technical masterpiece.
Jack – 5/5
A bone-shatteringly effective combination of cerebral storytelling and blood-and-thunder intensity, Dunkirk is Nolan’s best film since Inception, and perhaps his career highlight. Setting itself apart from most other WWII movies (and entering the canon of the genre’s very best) with its complete lack of big-picture politics and an age-appropriate cast, Nolan focuses fully on the fear, guilt, and towering courage of the young men escaping Dunkirk beach. The sounds of war batter you from all corners, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such brilliant flight scenes, the pinnacle of Dunkirk’s incredible, 70mm IMAX-demanding, visuals.
David – 4/5
Dunkirk is a phenomenal achievement by writer-director Christopher Nolan. The performances from Britain’s finest all are resoundingly grand and affecting, from Mark Rylance’s stiff upper lip to Tom Hardy’s tremendous eye acting. Nolan’s the star though. Arguably the most innovative and well-structured film he’s ever made, Dunkirk is an all-out assault on the senses – especially the ears. It’s difficult to not be impressed by the ambition and artistry interwoven throughout this lean, yet nerve-shredding, 106 minutes. If there’s a flaw, it may be the slight focus upon the scale rather than the individuals involved. This is but a niggle, mind.
Louise – 5/5
A truly immersive experience from the get-go, there’s not a moment in Dunkirk that lets you draw breath. The rumbling of distant, eerie planes, the tinnitus-inducing bullets, and Hans Zimmer’s score drag you into a terrifying world that only lets up in the last few seconds. Nolan removes any need for character back-stories and instead focuses on the sheer determination of every man to get the hell out of there. It’s desperately sad and often relentlessly bleak, but it’s also one of the best films you’ll see this year.
Kambole – 5/5
Put simply, Dunkirk is a technical marvel. The staging, the large film format, and the sheer scale of the film is seriously something to behold. Essentially one long, three-part set piece, there is a distinct lack of dialogue for the sake of action – but we’re never entirely detached, thanks to solid performances by the ensemble cast. Easily the most experimental blockbuster of the year, Nolan’s usual narrative trickery is well suited to the disorienting chaos of war. Completely thrilling, to the point where you’ll probably need a drink afterwards.
Tom – 4/5
For better or worse, Dunkirk is a typical Christopher Nolan film. It shows all his mastery of spectacle and his supreme ability to cross-cut several storylines, but in the heat of the action more than a little humanity gets lost. As the poster reads, “Survival is Victory”, but does that victory mean much if most of the characters are broad archetypes you never truly identify with?
By messing around with the film’s chronology, this story of defiance and hope against all odds becomes a tribute to Nolan’s own logistical genius. It’s an incredible achievement, but does that make it a great film?
Steph – 5/5
Telling the story of Dunkirk may not be what you’d expect from the widely popular sci-fi director, but Nolan’s style suits the story well, with the use of huge practical effects on the beach, sea and in the air creating a stunning spectacle. It’s an extremely intense 100 minutes that left me feeling quite out of breath. Nolan captures the scale of war and the desperate situation of everyone involved in Dunkirk. Shot on IMAX cameras, this is definitely a film to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Calum – 4/5
The cinematography deserves the Oscar, and Hans Zimmer’s score is his most inventive for ages, but Christopher Nolan has essentially created a grand experience he forgot to fill with characters.
The key offender is the main frame narrative, set over a week, as largely identical Tommies face survival issues that echo the genuinely heart-stopping horror of Saving Private Ryan‘s famous opening but also retain its anonymity. Thank god for the other, more involving, narratives – the sea and the sky – anchored by Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden. When so lacking in human involvement, Dunkirk‘s ultimately as exhilarating as it is dramatically lumpen.