Movie Review: Winston Churchill comes alive in ‘Darkest Hour’
Director: Joe Wright
Writers: Anthony McCarten
Stars: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn
Synopsis: During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds.
Joe Wright is certainly no stranger to The Academy, as two of previous films from the mid 2000s received immense acclaim from critics and audiences around. So does it really come as a massive jolt that a Winston Churchill biopic, starring Gary Oldman, directed by said director has Oscar contentions written all over it. Most notably however, Darkest Hour isn’t afraid to break free from traditional biopic mastery. Reinforcing a more light-hearted sense of sheathing mature subject matter all the while achieving the evident, threat-filled feeling that was present in the midst of World War II. Alas, it fails in seeking an escape from the grips of its tainted Oscar-baitish ways.
Quite easily the talk of the town regarding Darkest Hour was the hype surrounding Gary Oldman’s portrayal as the iconic political figure of past England’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Not to sound over dramatic, but Gary Oldman IS Winston Churchill. It’s as if we’re witnessing a second incarnation of Churchill throughout the entirety of the 125 minute runtime, credited to Oldman’s mesmerizing encapsulation of him. He nails all of Churchill’s mannerisms, down to something as simple as his trademark peace sign. Definitely the clear-cut frontrunner to take home the Oscar for Best Actor this year, as deserved. Despite his overwhelming presence, Lily James and Ben Mendelsohn, although nothing substantial, manage to squeeze in their share of acting chops when Oldman isn’t completely stealing a scene.
Joe Wright brings something so unorthodox to this genre of biopics. He maintains the insurmountable ultimatum brewing between Churchill and the nation of England but it’s with the traverse levels of comedy that gives it an upbeat edge over most true story films that are being thrown out into mainstream media. Immediately taking effect within one of the first scenes of the film, we get a glimpse of Churchill’s comical ways as he heckles his personal secretary Ms. Layton (played by Lily James). It makes for an entertaining hook for the viewer inside of us but keeps our eyes glued to the screen asking for more of him. The tone remains like that throughout the entire film. Establishing it fairly early how Wright did is somewhat unprecedented, but truly remarkable. Certainly no issues here with the screenplay and direction.
Darkest Hour doesn’t carry a whole lot of baggage with it. But the types it does, are relatively crucial. Even with its magnificent writing and direction, there’s a couple of useless scenes and transitions that are just makeshift for the films development. It doesn’t necessarily cause the film to stop progressing nor tampering the story, but it slows it down to the point where it begins to become an issue. Additionally, that Oscar-bait feeling that it’s so desperately being attached with kills everything it’s attempting to include. It stains everything that Darkest Hour is thriving off of which is a huge disappointment to myself and audiences alike.
Despite the unsavory feeling that the film’s sole purpose was to position itself in a category more appealing to The Academy, there’s no denying the invigorating depiction of not backing down when hope is lost, and how someone is willing to step forth as a leader. Gary Oldman is a surefire to win, and Joe Wright has never been better. The real question is, what film will voters adore more? Darkest Hour or Dunkirk? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Overall Grade: B
Our podcast review is coming soon.