Darkest Hour (PG-13)
01/03/18 00:02 Filed in: 2017
Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman
Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater @BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!
In the wake of Neville Chamberlain’s failed policy of appeasement, which has unwittingly abetted Hitler’s aggressive advance across Europe, Winston Churchill is enlisted to stem the tide of evil and help end WWII.
Darkest Hour is an immersive period piece with authentic, and finely mounted, production elements. The film’s success or failure largely depended on its casting. Fortunately, the actor chosen to inhabit the central role was more than up to the task. Gary Oldman delivers a career turn here as Winston Churchill. Could another actor have pulled off the part? Perhaps. But sometimes roles are tailor-made for a performer and such is the case here as the melding of character and actor was a feat of cinematic alchemy. Writer Anthony McCarten opens the movie with typist Elizabeth Layton’s (Lily James) first day on the job. McCarten introduces Layton and the audience to Churchill at the same time; an effective decision that thrusts us right into the heart of the action. Darkest Hour references the events portrayed in Dunkirk (2017); it was Churchill’s Operation Dynamo that mobilized a flotilla of 800 boats to rescue the 338,226 Allied soldiers who were surrounded by German troops on the infamous French beach. Also mentioned here is Churchill’s earlier failure (yes, this is a redemption story) at Gallipoli, which is chronicled in the fine 1981 film of the same name starring Mel Gibson. The sequence where Churchill rides the underground (subway) with commoners is the film’s standout moment as it serves to humanize Churchill while also fortifying his resolve to reject Hitler’s demands. Since the movie ends in the middle of the war, there’s still plenty of material to support a sequel. Maybe it will be called Darkest Minute, to be followed by Darkest Second to round out the trilogy. Sorry, just trying to lighten the mood.
Directing- Joe Wright (Atonement) does yeoman’s work here and evokes dazzling performances from his cast. The overall style is effective, but the interiors are exceedingly colorless and drab. However, it could be argued that such an aesthetic is the perfect accompaniment to the movie’s sullen subject matter.
Acting- An astounding performance by Oldman, who should be a strong contender for the Best Actor Oscar.
Story- A terrific screenplay by McCarten. The only drawback is that sometimes descriptions of off-screen actions are unclear and the pacing is a tad slow.
Costumes/Make-up- The costumes are well crafted and are period appropriate. The make-up (including latex appliances and torso padding to help Oldman resemble portly Churchill) is truly exceptional.
Cinematography- Limited to building interiors and claustrophobic corridors for much of the action, the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel succeeds despite its limitations.
Music- Dario Marianelli delivers a solid score that supports the film without distracting from the action.
Visual FX- NA
Production Values- The limited sets are a drawback, but everything else is top-notch.
Movie Magic- Slow pacing and familiar subject matter are minuses, but the powerhouse central performance and rousing ending are huge pluses.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars