More Churchill? More Dunkirk? Come on!
Right at the beginning of WWII, Great Britain was already going through turmoil. They needed a new Prime Minister, they were losing the war, and their soldiers were stuck, with seemingly nowhere to go, hide, and were basically going to all be killed. Then in walks Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), a brass and arrogant man who a lot more people disliked than they actually liked, however, lots respected him for getting the job done when push came to shove. But even for someone as fearless as Winston, even he admits that the situation he got tossed into wasn’t all that ideal in the first place. In fact, it was far from ideal – it was downright brutal. But now it’s up to Winston to fight the Nazis and decide whether he wants to continue on with the war and try to do what they can to win, or come to a peace-treaty, cut their losses, and hope for the best from Nazi Germany and one Adolf Hitler. Sounds easy, right?
Darkest Hour seems like typical Oscar-bait, in that it stars a lot of famous people, is long, based on a real-story, has a lot of history behind it, features lots and lots of period-details, make-up, hair, fat-suits, and oh yeah, smoking. Lots and lots of smoking, in fact. But director Joe Wright, for all of his missteps, is better than this material and knows how to bring a great deal of entertainment to what could have easily been an hour-long special on the History Channel.
In fact, it’s just really good-looking, really entertaining Oscar-bait. But hey, at least Gary Oldman’s great, right?
And yes, really, that’s what Darkest Hour is going for the most: Oldman himself, donning a lot of make-up, a bald-head, a fat-suit, and taking on the rough-task of becoming Winston Churchill. What’s the end-game here? Obviously it’s so that Oldman can gain his first Oscar and prove to the world and to the Academy themselves that he’s worth it, even though, if the last 30 or so years weren’t already an indication, he clearly already is.
Sure, Oldman’s great here as Churchill, as he totally sinks into the role, catches all the ticks, mannerisms, and daily-beats of this man, totally allowing us to forget that we’re watching Oldman up on the screen, but it’s also still a performance made solely for the sake of award-nominations and wins. Oldman’s performance itself, no matter how far and wide it can seemingly go, is still limited to a lot of grumpiness, coughing, yelling, stammering, and limping that feels like he’s doing a lot, but at the same time, not doing much at all. Oldman’s a much more interesting actor than what he shows here and although it’s a good performance that will no doubt get him an Oscar, it’s still a sign that he’s capable of way, way more.
Then again, that’s always the case with Oldman, so why am I at all surprised?
In fact, the true stand-out performance comes from Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI. Mendelsohn is always great in every role he takes, no matter how loud or quiet said role may be, but as King George VI, he shows a great deal of silent humanity that makes this character much more interesting than someone watching from the side-lines. As history would have it, King George VI was much more involved and the movie shows that he’s as much to blame for the eventual victory of Great Britain and the scenes where it’s just him and Oldman, trying not to lose their cool, help ground things in a smart, relatively subtle way. Would I have liked to seen them yell at one another, like each are known to do in movies?
Oh, most definitely. But hey, can’t have it all, right?
But like I said before, Wright works well with the material because he doesn’t forget to keep everything moving. The whole movie is basically one long scene of British people yelling at and arguing with one another in smoke-filled rooms, but they kind of work. There’s a sort of intensity to them that, although we know the overall end-game of what they’re arguing about, there’s still a lot to pay attention to and learn from. It’s a typical history-biopic, but it’s done right and you can’t totally argue against that.
Even if it is your grandfather’s night at the movies, hey, grand-pop can’t always be wrong.
Consensus: Despite it being pure Oscar-bait, Darkest Hour features solid performances, a lightly entertaining direction from Wright, and a solid look at one important part in Great Britain’s history.
7 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Focus Features