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Film Review – Darkest Hour (2017)

Gary Oldman is considered one of the better actors working today, but he’s never received an Oscar to solidify him as one of the greats.  But, with an impeccable turn as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, critics are exclaiming that Oldman might have his best chance ever to win that coveted award.  The following review will be spoiler free.

Darkest Hour

Synopsis

Directed By: Joe Wright

Written By: Anthony McCarten

Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn, and Lily James

At the onset of World War II, Britain faced imminent danger as France was sure to fall, meaning that the Nazis would continue to advance into the rest of Europe.  With much of the Allied army trapped at Dunkirk, newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Oldman) must make an almost impossible decision in whether to negotiate with Hitler and save the British people at a great cost or fight against incredible odds.  Either way, the road ahead for Churchill will not be easy.

Background

Every year, there’s an actor or actress that goes above and beyond in their craft for a memorable performance.  They transform their bodies and mind, becoming an entirely new person for months at a time in the pursuit of growth in their profession (and fame).  It appears as if Gary Oldman is the frontrunner for that distinction this year, going through hours of make-up everyday to produce a facsimile of famed politician Winston Churchill.  Whether or not this dedication leads to a litany of awards remains to be seen.  However, there’s no denying that Oldman is going for it, and we’re all better for that choice in some capacity as film lovers.

Oldman focused on his role of Winston Churchill at all times while filming Darkest Hour.  Funny enough, throughout filming, Churchill went through approximately 400 cigars, equating to $20,000.  Luckily, many are going to the theaters to see Darkest Hour and Oldman’s performance, allowing for that exorbitant cigar budget.

Regardless, Gary Oldman is doing everything in his power to get your attention, and you should probably oblige him.

Gary Oldman Commands Your Attention

Gary Oldman goes for it as Winston Churchill.  That statement cannot be more true.  It takes a second to get used to his character and mannerisms as you pay close attention to his make-up and speech patterns, seeing if it holds up with every breath.  You’ll stare at his jaw line to see if you can spot creases in his overweight make-up.  You might even grimace once or twice at his idiosyncrasies.  However, once that initial fixation subsides, you are locked into Oldman as Churchill, forgetting that he has pounds of make-up on his body.

Oldman walks the line of putting in a great performance and overacting.  Either way you look at it, his performance requires your attention as he is the most captivating person on-screen.  But, as mentioned above, once you as the viewer become used to this larger than life personality, everything falls into place, leading to an outstanding performance in the end.

Oldman is exceedingly imposing just as Winston Churchill was himself.  He slurs his speech together in a manner that sometimes is barely intelligible.  He drinks all throughout the day and naps when he should attend meetings with dignitaries.  And yet, amid the offbeat hilarity and uncensored remarks, there’s a man who cares deeply about the future of his country.  Oldman captures all of these elements with ease, providing great entertainment.

A Fascinating Story that is Both Informative and Stylish

Behind that compelling performance is a story to help prop it up.  Darkest Hour works as a very nice companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, showing the strategy side of the harrowing army rescue by civilian ships.  For anyone that considers himself or herself a history buff, Darkest Hour dives deep into the political spectrum of the time, showing that Churchill came into power almost by accident.  As a matter of fact, the movie goes to great lengths to show that Churchill would not have been fit to lead under different circumstances.  Hell, he might not have been the best leader during the impending invasion of German forces, either.  This conflict led to palpable arguments in the war room, and a film worth watching in my humble opinion.

Director Joe Wright does his best to dress up these political discussions with an abundance of visual style and splendor.  There’s a great color palette used on the film that acts almost as a grayscale, visually reminding you that these are dark times for Britain.  The camera whizzes through scenes, adding energy to the picture that positions itself predominantly in political discussion.  There’s clever visual gags used such as fun transitions and strong use of symmetry that keeps the entire film interesting in one way or another.

Dario Marianelli, a frequent collaborator with Joe Wright, also adds an impeccable score that is both regal and pulsating.  If you ask me, it deserves an Oscar.  It drives the entire movie to great heights.

Darkest Hour‘s Narrative May Leave Some a Bit Cold

Darkest Hour covers a very short time period, a few weeks to be exact.  The film is simultaneously trying to tell a large story but in a confined, limited viewpoint.  As such, you might not receive a proper cathartic release of emotion as the film abruptly ends before Churchill’s work to win over parliament is ever completely set.  Churchill’s famous bonds with the people of the United Kingdom are glossed over in order to handle more war room proceedings.  This fact may turn some people off to the film.

Darkest Hour certainly plays to the Hollywoodized” version of this story, failing to transcend the medium and settling for a story that feels very much like a movie in that regard.  In the end, you want Darkest Hour to go deeper, but it never quite gets there.

Final Thoughts

Darkest Hour contains one of the most captivating performances of the year in Gary Oldman’s turn as Winston Churchill, pushing his way to a lock for an Oscar nomination.  Director Joe Wright isn’t afraid to paint Churchill in a less than ideal light, creating a fascinating battle between Churchill and his cabinet members.

This movie is incredibly stylish from its production design to its camera movements.  It dresses up a feature that relies almost exclusively on political debates and speeches.  For the less diplomatically inclined, it’s possible that they fight the urge to stare at their watch.  For everyone else, Darkest Hour is quality cinema.

Grade: B+


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Nick Kush

A current young professional, Nick founded MovieBabble in October of 2016 in order to provide insightful film analysis that is meant to educate and entertain. Nick is also a member of the Internet Film Critics Society. You can follow Nick at the official MovieBabble Twitter account @MovieBabble_

19 Responses

  1. DarkestHour says:

    This film is absolutely brilliant from the acting to the sets..the editing is tight. Thrilling. It took me about 1 minute to accept Gary Oldham as Churchill…

  2. I believe this is the finest modern film ever made about the Churchill legend; I gave it 9 out of 10 only because one scene smacked of compromised plausibility that lingers with me. Othewise, flawless.

    • Nick Kush says:

      That’s pretty fair! To which scene are you referring?

      • The London Tube scene. I’ve described it thus:
        “This film comes close to being flawless but for one scene that lingers with an air of compromised plausibility. With a Parliamentary speech about to be given, Churchill bolts from a rear car seat and into the London Tube. He enters a carriage full of ordinary citizens and soon has an audience of astonished gazes which become a single chorus urging Churchill to never surrender. Despite the rousing sentiment, the scene plays like a dream sequence from another movie.”

      • Nick Kush says:

        Yup totally agree there. The entire film is certainly stylish but also is deeply rooted in being somewhat realistic. That scene felt like it was out of a live action Disney film ??

      • Exactly, Nick.

  3. How was this compared to the Brian Cox Churchill film?

  4. Very well written review and insightful. Although I disagree with you score :-b I loved your comment about Garry Oldman performance:

    “Regardless, Gary Oldman is doing everything in his power to get your attention, and you should probably oblige him”.

    I completely agree!

    • Nick Kush says:

      ?? thanks so much! What would you give it??

      • Ha! Great question….umm a 9/10 (more of a linear scale) or 4/5 (more of a log scale)!

        Although I must admit that Im fascinated by this period!

        Cheers,

        Caleb

      • Nick Kush says:

        I was between an A- or B+, so we’re pretty close lol!

      • So true!!! That’s actually close!

        Any movie on your docket? I’m planning to see All the Money in the World…wait have you reviewed that one?

        I was wondering if you review short films? I know they are thousands of terrible short films, but from time to time you come across great ones. Like this one, I found on Vimeo (I don’t know the filmmakers)

      • Nick Kush says:

        There’s a review for All the Money in the World on the site! Checking out The Post later today!

  5. Aimer Boyz says:

    Loved the movie. Totally agree that Oldman did a great job. Mendelsohn as King George deserves a shout out for his subtle handling of the King’s difficulties with speaking.
    Now, I’ve got to see Dunkirk 🙂

    • Nick Kush says:

      You’re so right about Mendelsohn! I loved their interactions throughout the movie. They made for some fantastic entertainment.

  6. raistlin0903 says:

    I really hope he is going to win this time. He is one of my alltime favorite actors, and he truly deserves it. Haven’t seen this one yet, but it sounds amazing. Looking forward to it ??

    • Nick Kush says:

      He’s definitely the frontrunner along with Timothee Chalamet from Call Me By Your Name. We’ll see!

  7. Nick Kush says:

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