Darkest Hour (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
A third film looking at the Dunkirk evacuation in 2017, Darkest Hour arrives with a lot of people's attention focused on its subject matter.
Gary. Oldman. Though surprisingly divisive, many feel this is the actor's best work in a long and storied career.
For history buffs and those who like a 'political procedural', Darkest Hour gives ample information and weight to the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and negotiating that led Winston Churchill to make the decisions necessary to save an entire military force.
For some viewers, this gets a little too dense and too historical, potentially alienating viewers with merely a passive interest in the film and subject matter.
Oldman's performance is shrouded by heavy makeup and a guttural, spitting accent. I have heard from more than a few people who have watched Darkest Hour that Oldman's performance is the very thing they don't like about the film. As you respond to Oldman's Churchill, so goes your enjoying of the film.
The film labors to get through its 125-minute running time. Joe Wright's film could stand for one more trip through the editing bay for a more succinct and concise film.
Following in the footsteps of Their Finest and Dunkirk, Gary Oldman’s powerhouse performance dominates Darkest Hour, the third film released in 2017 to take a crack at looking at the historic Dunkirk conflict during the Second World War.
Whereas Their Finest looked at the British Ministry of Information’s attempt to boost morale through the eyes of a female screenwriter, and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk told the evacuation operations from ground, water, and air, Darkest Hour takes us behind-the-scenes and into the political decision-making which led to Dunkirk evacuation.
Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna), Darkest Hour stars Oldman as Winston Churchill in his first term as British Prime Minister, immediately faced with the realization that Germany’s advancements have France and Belgium teetering on the notion of surrender. The country’s politics are unsettled as outgoing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) is losing his battle with cancer and internal political turmoil is making the appointment of Churchill a truly divisive decision.
Oldman's performance, though not without its detractors, struck me as among the finest work of 2017. The veteran actor offers an immersive and remarkable turn, with others claiming this is the finest work of the actor’s legendary career. Buried under heavy makeup, Oldman tries to recreate the iconic leader's timbre and tone, while Wright, along with screenwriter Anthony McCarten, allow the actor plenty of room to gruff and grumble his way through their parliamentary film.
Wright combs through the hallways and war rooms and gives us the sense of an insider’s look at how history just might have been made. Churchill is cold and distant initially to young secretary Elizabeth (Lily James), but soon he grows to rely on her, and she on him, offering the film a moment of emotional connection often lost, as McCarten’s script gives us a lot of combative back-and-forth, intense rhetoric.
Historical buffs will scoff at some moments, but likely relish the densely layered, drill down approach to the story. A bit long in the tooth at 125 minutes, on occasion, Darkest Hour hammers you over the head with its direct nature. As a result, we observe the film with admiration, but since everything is handed to us, our emotional buy-in to the story is simply reacting to what’s given to us. There’s little, if any, extra air to breathe, no symbolism to ponder, no commentary to weigh in our own minds.
Like Churchill, the film is rather deliberate in how forthright it is. That’s fine for awhile, but even with Oldman owning the movie, the approach can grow rather exhausting.
Darkest Hour is a solid, often engrossing movie, just falling short of a great one. The movie has authenticity, is paced well, but limits its appeal by not reaching far beyond what can feel like an adaptation from a British history textbook.
With that said, we have three films this year all documenting the incredible Dunkirk story, and each carve out a place in the unique tapestry of those stories presented before us. I appreciate Darkest Hour, relish Gary Oldman's fascinating performance, and find a movie that will appeal to its target audience exponentially well.
Beyond that, is there room for anyone else to participate in this? Time will have to tell.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James, Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane, Nicholas Jones, Samuel West, RIchard Lumsden, Jeremy Child, Samuel West, David Strathairn.
Director: Joe Wright
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Release Date: November 22, 2017