Darkest Hour Marks Another Gary Oldman Victory
Review by Aaron Haughton
Darkest Hour is a great companion piece to Dunkirk, showing the political end of WWII as felt from London, as opposed from the beach/air/ocean of Christopher Nolan’s film. However, Darkest Hour is about much more than just the battle of Dunkirk — it’s a rousing tale of a Prime Minister thrust into power at the darkest conceivable time, forced with the tough decision to bow down to evil forces or die fighting.
Gary Oldman embodies Winston Churchill during the early days of World War II. With the fall of France imminent, Britain can feel the threat of an impending Nazi invasion. As the Nazi forces advance, and with the Allied army cornered on the beaches of Dunkirk, the fate of Western Europe hinges on the leadership and decision making of the newly appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. While maneuvering his political rivals, he must confront the ultimate choice: negotiate with Hitler and save the British people at a terrible cost, or rally the nation and fight against incredible odds.
First off, Gary Oldman is spectacular as Churchill, serving up one of his best performances in recent memory. He sinks so far into the role that he becomes barely recognizable, leaving only Churchill incarnate. His performance is elevated to another level by the fantastic supporting cast, consisting of Ben Mendelsohn, Lilly James, Ronald Pickup, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Stephen Dillane, all of whom provide equally solid performances. Although, at the end of the day, it’s the Gary Oldman show, and he will continuously dazzle throughout this historical drama.
Joe Wright’s direction combined with Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography hook you immediately with a sweeping long take of the parliament building that twists and winds throughout, introducing us to the political turmoil of the world the film takes place in. Once the visual hooks are set, they just keep digging deeper into your skin as the film wears on. Wright and Delbonnel deliver an assault to the senses, utilizing the gorgeous architecture, camera movement and lighting to supplement the performances and stylize the story. There are some absolutely stunning sequences in the film that I was not expecting — among them are aerial shots looking down over the bomber planes.
In a lot of ways, the film feels comparable to Spielberg's Lincoln, in the sense that it's essentially the political end of the spectrum and consists primarily of dialogue-driven dramatic sequences. Both films are not without their visual flair or their occasional action sequence, but Darkest Hour actually delivers on a fair bit of comedy, as well. I didn't think the film would have as many laughs as it did, but they never feel odd or out of place. Emotionally, the film hits on many levels, but the best of which is a London Underground ride wherein Churchill mingles with tramcar full of London civilians.
There is an undeniable fluidity to the film, which helps reinforce the notion of the government as a machine, all while instilling an urgency into the viewer of the global panic that was felt during the time. Coursing underneath is Dario Marianelli's score, which is the glue that holds the film together. Marianelli's musical range mirrors Churchill's emotions, which spans the gamut from triumphant to despair, culminating into a mix of both extremes during Churchill's famous “We shall fight on the beaches…” speech.
All in all, Darkest Hour proves to be one of the more compelling historical dramas. I went in knowing very little about Winston Churchill and walked out feeling like I'd gained a bit of knowledge, in addition to being thoroughly entertained. Even if you're not an avid historian or a huge Gary Oldman fan (which — let's face it — who isn't?), there's an allure to this film that should captivate nearly everyone.
The film releases for a limited run on November 22nd, so check it out if it's available in your area.
Rating: 3.5 cigars outta 5.
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