Thursday, January 4, 2018

Darkest Hour **1/2 (2017)

Now more than ever the courage of Winston Churchill is a story that deserves retelling. The year 2017 was a big year for Winston with two films as the main subject and Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk all celebrated the courage of the British people during the Second World War. Darkest Hour focuses primarily on May 1940 as Churchill became Prime Minister and displayed brave determination in standing up to fascism.

Gary Oldman's been one of the consummate actors of the past 30 years, playing everyone from Sid Viscous to Dracula. In Nolan's Batman trilogy he was fantastic as Commissioner Gordon, his acting in The Dark Knight Rises is one of my favorite comic book movie performances. As Churchill, Oldman gives an exceptional performance, yet underwhelms, insisting on playing him as a doddering old man with occasional flashes of genius. Darkest Hour goes to great lengths to portray Churchill as all too human, prone to pettiness, drinking, and wild ideas. While the script does emphasize his mastery of the English language and ability to inspire everyone to do their best, those moments are few and far between. 

Darkest Hour plays like a Masterpiece Theater version of High Noon as Churchill struggles to outdo the appeasers who sought a peace deal with Hitler in the dark days following the French surrender in the spring of 1940. Attempts at humor fall flat, such as his secretary's inability to understand his slurred speaking style. A scene where Churchill rides a subway to get a sense of how Londoners feel about the crisis may or may not be true, but feels like a contrived moment. For example, he asks the occupation of a man and learns he's a bricklayer. Why did the film not explain that Churchill was a member of the bricklayer's union in England? It would've added something to the moment!

A more superior film on Churchill is the 2002 HBO movie The Gathering Storm starring Albert Finney, a teleplay that gave the personal and public sides of the man in a more intriguing way, Darkest Hour is more amusing diversion featruing a two dimensional Churchill.  

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