Alex A.’s review published on Letterboxd:
Arguably Nolan's best alongside Memento, and certainly his most well-crafted and tightest work so far.
The most crucial factor why Dunkirk stands tall above most of his other films, in my opinion, is that the film isn't filled with convoluted, overwritten exposition fests I've come to expect from Nolan; its length is truly spot on, and the final result is an unexpectedly stellar piece of war cinema. It's all about the visual storytelling and the pure language of film, and it feels like Nolan is paying tribute to the earliest era of film history, with the almost silent but harrowing and very unconventional war epic. Its minimalistic approach is refreshing and when Nolan ditches the too ambitious, overlong and messy scripts, it's visible he can be a damn great filmmaker.
The suspense, sheer terror, dread and claustrophobia are insanely palpable. It's almost a survival horror film in a way, where every bullet and explosion is a sensory attack which contributes to the continuously escalating tension. The Germans, here simply referred to as "the enemy", are ingeniously presented as this abstract, invisible, lurking existential oppressor which holds the whole situation in its mercy. Even though the film hasn't got a central character or insanely deep characterization you'd expect (the big criticism that most people have at the moment), that isn't the point here, because Nolan focuses on the entire collective and its attempt to survive amidst the most desolate and hopeless situation possible. The urgency of the whole thing doesn't need to have every character to be a larger than life figure; instead it focuses on the entire collective of ill-fated souls desperately trying to overcome the impossible.
It is highly emotional at times even though it hasn't that much focus on individual characters, because essentially the film celebrates how the human spirit can be triumphant in the darkest of times, and doesn't present a clichéd scenario of how a group of idealized patriotic soldiers single-handedly saved the day. The characters in Dunkirk are scared, desperate and hopeless, willing to throw their humanity and compassion away in the face of impending catastrophe and annihilation.
The multi-perspectived, non-linear narrative approach is Nolan at his most experimental, and it is an interesting narrative concept which rivets most of the time, but there lies my only major flaw - even though it's really impressive it can be unfocused at times, and even though Nolan is confident in almost every other aspect of the craft here, in that area it's obvious that he's experimenting and hasn't fully mastered it. The suspense is further built by supreme sound design mixing with Zimmer's pulse-pounding score, which is fairly minimalistic in tradition with the rest of the film but very effective, and it's still ringing in my ears after a day. The splendid cinematography also adds to the factor of immersion, and creates an experience which is truly meant to be seen at the biggest possible screen. I'm really curious to see will it hold up as much on a smaller screen rewatch.
This isn't just a soulless spectacle or a mere display of technical prowess; but a legitimately great and full-blooded war film which haunts, shocks and terrorizes, but leaves with the feeling of hope and inspiration. It's a marvelous story which deserved to be told, and I'm glad Nolan delivered it in a truly monumental way, with his most assured, tight and experimental direction so far. Not the actual "best war film ever made" as some proclaim, but surely a damn excellent one.