Review - 'Darkest Hour'
While watching Darkest Hour, a film following the monumental decisions and speeches given by Winston Churchill during a time when the Nazis were on the brink of invasion, I was amazed by how high its spirits were despite its heavy subject matter. That is not to say that Darkest Hour is a happy movie, but it is an entirely hopeful and inspiring one, versus the bleak funeral dirge that it could have been.
Darkest Hour follows Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) during the time when he is elected to Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Facing the seemingly imminent threat of an invasion by Germany, Churchill must choose to either forfeit to Hitler in an effort to save as many British lives as possible, or continue to fight despite the narrowing odds of success.
After the oddity that was Pan, which was not a bad film just a ballsy and baffling one, Joe Wright is back safely within his wheelhouse for Darkest Hour. For those who were burned by Pan, this is as good a pallet cleanser as any, and a great return to form for the director who thrives when he's making realistic period pieces that have a heavy emphasis on character.
Perhaps the most praise-worthy quality of Darkest Hour is its cast, with a heavy emphasis on Gary Oldman. Oldman is completely transformed as Winston Churchill, though little glimmers of the actor shine through at just the right moments. I didn't quite believe it was Winston Churchill in the flesh, but Oldman and the make-up/prosthetic team bring it as close as anyone will ever be able to. Daniel Day-Lewis may be amazing in Phantom Thread, but I believe Gary Oldman could be the real winner at the Oscars this year. Ben Mendohlson also shines as George VI, the King of the United Kingdom. Mendohlson plays a man who is skeptical of Churchill's decision-making and every one of their interactions is awkwardly confrontational in all of the right ways. Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James also turn in great performances as Clementine Churchill (Winston Churchill's wife) and Elizabeth Layton (Churchill's personal secretary).
Though this film would have crumbled without its stellar performances, there's still plenty more that Darkest Hour has to offer that is worth commending. One of my favorite aspects of this film is its tone and atmosphere, which as I stated before, is one that seems bleak but also never seems to lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. The events that take place here could have easily made for a downer of an experience, but instead, I left the theater invigorated, optimistic and I gained a deeper understanding as to why we should never relent our fight against evil, even when the odds seem stacked against us.
The largest complaint I can lodge against Darkest Hour is in regards to its pacing. This is a movie that ebbs and flows, but sometimes ebbs for a little to long. The beginning to mid-section of this film does begin to sag a bit, that is not to say that I was bored, but I did get that urge to check the time. While the film's deliberate pacing sometimes gets the better of it, it's still engaging enough in its slower segments to carry me up through its crescendos and into its most rousing moments.
Also working in Darkest Hour's favor is its impeccable cinematography. Director Joe Wright and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel really made every scene feel lived-in and there are some truly creative and beautiful shots littered all-throughout this movie. I also very much enjoyed the sweeping score by Dario Marianelli.
While Darkest Hour has some issues with pacing, the way it made me feel by the time it ended was what really turned everything around for me. This is a film that is inspiring and makes you believe in the strength of the human spirit in the face of hate and adversity. In addition to this the performances are outstanding and the production values are impressive. For these reasons, Darkest Hour is a mostly triumphant success.