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What Critics Are Saying About Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan's war epic tells the hellish tale of the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation. But the critical response to Dunkirk has been positively heavenly. 

From its stylish direction to its deeply moving storyline bolstered by stellar performances from the whole ensemble (singer turned actor Harry Styles included), Dunkirk appears to have captivated critics the world over. 

Empire critic Nick De Semlyen applauded the film's freshness and visual brilliance. Today's audiences have spent decades watching digital dogfights in Star Wars movies, themselves originally inspired by World War II movies such as Twelve O'Clock High," he wrote. Nolan gets the wow factor back by stripping away the pixels, shooting real Spitfires on real sorties above the real English Channel. The results are incredible, particularly on the vast expanse of an IMAX screen, with the wobbly crates veering and soaring above a mass of blue."

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy called the film an "impressionist masterpiece," adding that "Nolan has gotten everything just right." McCarthy also praised the film's expert cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, production designer Nathan Crowley, and keen costume designer Jeffrey Kurland. "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," wrote McCarthy. "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."

Dave Calhoun of Time Out felt much the same: "The power of Christopher Nolan's harrowing, unusual dramatic re-creation is that it tries—with real success—not to make any of this feel like just another war movie. Instead there's an uneasy sense of a bloody, strange event unfolding in that unknowable way that those on the ground might have experienced it. Dunkirk is awe-inspiring and alienating, as it should be."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw was so affected by the film, he argued it's Nolan's best outing to date. "This is a powerful, superbly crafted film with a story to tell, avoiding war porn in favor 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," Bradshaw wrote. He also gave the flick a perfect score. 

David Ehrlich at IndieWire echoed Bradshaw's raving sentiments, diving into the themes of fear and entrapment present in the movie. "Few movies have so palpably conveyed the sheer isolation of fear, and the extent to which history is often made by people who are just trying to survive it—few movies have so vividly illustrated that one man can only do as much for his country as a country can do for one of its men," Ehrlich penned. "But Nolan, by stressing that grim truth to its breaking point, returns from the fray with a commanding testament to a simple idea: We may die alone, but we live together."

Despite the flawless score the film received at IndieWireDunkirk received a bit of criticism from the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips, who mentioned that the three-story narrative structure isn't as steady as it should be: "How do these three story strands intertwine, by land, by sea and by air? It hurts to say it, but not easily. This is why I consider Dunkirk a worthwhile frustration, buoyed by some genuine mastery. As powerful and exciting as Dunkirk is, at its best, I found the time games self-conscious and vexing, and in the context of a fictionalized true story of thousands of lives lost, and hundreds of thousands saved, the structural gimmick feels, well, gimmicky." 

However, Phillips still gave the movie three out of four stars, and stated that Dunkirk pulls from its audience "the response moviemakers of all kinds have been after for more than a century: whew! Followed by: wow."

So, is Dunkirk as amazing as the critics say it is? You'll be able to decide for yourself when Dunkirk is released in theaters on July 21. Until then, take a look at the movies that will blow everyone away this summer.