Darkest Hour (2017)

Review #1,528






THE SCOOP
Director:  Joe Wright
Cast:  Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas
Plot:  During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds.

Genre:  Biography / Drama / History
Awards:  Won 1 Golden Globe - Best Leading Actor (Drama)
Runtime:  125 mins
Rating:  PG for some thematic material
Distributor:  United International Pictures

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.”

Gary Oldman is one of the most underrated actors of the last thirty years, but with this performance—a career best—as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, he should finally get his due, and could culminate in him winning the Oscar for Best Leading Actor (he betta!).  We often talk about the dancer and dance becoming one—similarly, actor and historical figure become one in an extraordinary transformation, amid some really heavy makeup and costuming (literally a heavy one as Oldman dons a fat suit).  

He is able to transcend all that weight and perform the challenging role effortlessly.  Not all have that gift—for example, even Leonardo DiCaprio (and poor, old Armie Hammer) struggled under heavy ageing makeup (albeit a pretty bad one) as the eponymous character in Clint Eastwood’s decidedly-mixed J. Edgar (2011).

Joe Wright, the skilled director of such films as Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007), bounces back from the critical dud that is the fantasy blockbuster Pan (2015), with a topical film on patriotism and politics.  Wright is comfortably back at home in a period piece, lensed by Bruno Delbonnel, who takes a page out of his own work, the Coens’s Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), which is shot in low-key, subdued lighting.  In Darkest Hour, we see that utilised to great effect, as Churchill operates in the shadows, or is lit by just a single light source.  

Long-time Wright’s composer, Dario Marianelli, also delivers one of his most beautiful if straightforward scores, almost reminiscent of the style of  Alexandre Desplat, particularly his work for British biopics such as The Queen (2006) or The King’s Speech (2010).  

Much of Darkest Hour centers on Churchill’s initial appointment as Prime Minister at the time of war and the ensuing month in office, including the critical events at Dunkirk (so intensely recreated in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, and coincidentally, elegiacally staged by Wright himself in Atonement in one of the medium's most astonishing long takes). 

History aficionados may dig this movie, but I suspect it doesn’t offer more than what they already know, which might ultimately prove disappointing.  For the rest, myself included, who aren’t diehard history buffs but are fascinated by larger-than-life figures, Wright’s film should prove a rousing, even inspiring, delight.      

Verdict:  Gary Oldman becomes one with Winston Churchill in a career-best performance in Joe Wright’s rousing period drama.

GRADE: B+







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