First order of business, I say Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) deserves to win the Oscar for Best Actor! The range of his vulnerability as Winston Churchill truly comes out through the fear echoed behind his eyes and voice, a haunting disappearance into the role.
All other ways Darkest Hour crafts Churchill should guarantee amazement, starting with the latex prosthetics used to transform Oldman into the man of the hour: a flawless milestone in Hollywood makeup design. Pretty much right away his lesser known arrogant side comes out, especially once he presses his controversial decisions to push the UK’s attack on Nazi, Germany. He publicly flaunts his odd plan by making a V handshape for the reporters, backwards by the way, which he later learns means not victory, but “up your bum.” So the balance between Churchill’s funnier, personal traits and his positive well-known qualities earns its appreciation. Our present age could use a more complete Churchill depiction, a man who shares our president’s most prominent commonalities, both good and bad.
Alongside scene-stealer Oldman, the rest of the cast generates desperate, yet compassionate performances, particularly in how the underrated actress Kristin Scott Thomas, (The English Patient) attentively complements Oldman as wife Clementine Churchill.
Beyond the people, the technicians also achieve great heights without being too greedy onscreen. Production designer Sarah Greenwood (Anna Karenina, Atonement) recreates the lovely detailed historical setting by enclosing squares and circles upon a pressured Churchill. Likewise, the soft cream colors by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Amélie, Inside Llewyn Davis) set up singular stark backlights to diffuse the overall appearance of what looks like an old historical tape painted by British pride. The feature’s desaturated look soon finds a rupture in its style in the heavy moment of Churchill’s first live speech, when a deep red light floods the room. Then in the post production process, massive letters tick each day by the screen as the lives at Dunkirk are at stake. Everyone's past mental scars can be seen purely by these visual decisions to enhance the feature.
Unfortunately, despite the suggested idea of pressure, the meat of the pressure leans too far toward a one-sided British monarchy. Practically no representation goes to the contributors of England's condition beyond some old news footage. The screenplay by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) does show every character fighting back whatever tough challenge they started together, though you still may want to sit back a little away from the script’s very bad breath. Clementine in particular has a quarter-baked subplot never resolved despite a pre-established anticipation for closure. All the other women either stay chained behind typewriters or at the husband’s bedside, as if cinematic diversity just fell backwards seventy-five years.
Like other hopeful Oscar contenders, the attempt to inspire here stretches too hard, especially in the final speech. It’s understandable why it took on a PG-13 rating to appeal to a profitable market, although most teenagers will find it boring, while others may find it predictable, since the script’s fear of national failure triggers an insignificant response from the target audience. Seriously, the potential in Darkest Hour’s kite rides with the wind rather than against it.
You can always count on Americans to do the right thing after they’ve tried everything else, except director Joe Wright (Anna Karenina, Pride & Prejudice) lazily relies on historical news footage to establish the era, one of the several examples that demonstrates a small imagination; ironic since Wright attempts to focus in on Churchill’s message of courage.
Perfect World Pictures ultimately thinks striking gold will guarantee financial and critical success, with the assumption that the Oscars still set their prioritized sights on British WWII era biopics. Considering the massive change the Academy’s gone through lately in terms of membership, Darkest Hour instead looks desperate alongside its winter release. Therefore, the film’s inner quarrel between the past and present loses sight of the future.
As a bonus, in this review, I slipped in three quotes from Winston Churchill and two quotes from Donald Trump. Can you find them?
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Broich, John. “What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Darkest Hour.” Digital image. Slate. The Slate Group, 8 Dec 2017. Web. <http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2017/12/08/what_s_fact_and_what_s_fiction_in_darkest_hour.html>.
Darkest Hour. Focus Features. Web. <http://www.focusfeatures.com/darkesthour/>.
“Donald Trump Quotes.” Brainy Quote. Web. <https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/donald_trump>.
Ellwood, Gregory. “Gary Oldman Marvels At Churchill’s ‘Superhuman’ Achievements In ‘Darkest Hour’ [Interview].” Digital image. The Playlist. 27 Nov 2017. Web. <https://theplaylist.net/gary-oldman-darkest-hour-interview-20171127/>.
“Winston Churchill Quotes.” Brainy Quote. Web. <https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/winston_churchill>.