Friday, December 29, 2017

Movie Review: Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman delivers one of the best performances of his career and is nearly unrecognizable as Winston Churchill. The movie revolves around the events leading up to the Dunkirk evacuation tying conveniently to another film this year about that event. The story starts with Parliament objecting to the leadership of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) as the opposition liberal party can no longer have him as the leader as he allowed Hitler to rise to power. The conservative party agrees one man should be the next Prime Minister, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), but he refuses the promotion not wanting to take over during wartime. The privilege of leading the country falls to the career politician, Churchill, who is introduced through the eyes of Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), a nervous typist on her first day who has to grow accustomed to Churchill's eccentricities, almost quitting after a tough lecture. 

Oldman brings out the peculiar nature of Churchill's behavior like an English breakfast in bed to his blubbering speech. Churchill receives the call to the palace from King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). The king is nervous around Churchill and their relationship is cold as his royal highness preferred Halifax as the next prime minister. Churchill shrugs off the standoffishness and criticism to prepare for war. Halifax and Chamberlain don't want to go to war against Hitler and his nazis so they start to push for peace talks. They develop a plan to cause a vote of no confidence against Churchill if they get it in writing that he does not accept any path towards negotiation with Germany. Churchill is crafty about being boxed into a corner and prepared to be usurped. He quickly puts these antagonistic conspirators on his war room council. 

Churchill depends on his family even as they take second place in his priorities. His wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) sticks with him and is not afraid to give him advice even if it's harsh. The threat looms on the horizon as the Germans take Belgium and their tanks push into France. Churchill makes a tough decision to sacrifice four thousand troops to bring three hundred thousand out at Dunkirk. With the smaller group of soldiers being sacrificed, it will serve as a distraction to allow the evacuation to continue. Halifax and Chamberlain object to the loss and Churchill's continued unwillingness to negotiate. Some of the interactions are so subtle but there illuminated so well under the direction of Joe Wright mixed with Oldman's performance. 

Facing an invasion, Churchill finally concedes that he will hear Hitler's terms as he begs for help from Roosevelt. The king comes to Churchill's house to put his full support behind the prime minister. He gives the advice to go to the people which leads to a great subway scene, my favorite of the film. The citizens of London do not want to negotiate with fascists and Churchill takes the message back to Parliament. The film winds down with two last great speeches from Churchill to showcase the performance of Oldman and show Churchill's power through language. 

Darkest Hour centers around the brilliant performance of an amazing actress and while it doesn't offer much else, it does give some insight into a historical moment. I need to learn more about the history of the world but movies like this make it fun and compelling to consume information while being entertaining. Gary Oldman is definitely working to earn a best actor award and has so far achieved an important nomination, but he has some tough competition and faces the backlash of being the favored recipient. He has a strong supporting cast with Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ben Mendelsohn. Even though the movie is nearly all just talking, it is never once boring and a great homage to a brave leader. 

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