Thursday, February 8, 2018
OSCARS 2018: Darkest Hour (2017)
Gary Oldman is going to win a statue for “Darkest Hour.” (The definite article was left off presumably to avoid confusion with that sci-fi movie from 2011 absolutely no one saw.) Will this come true, like Leo's win, or will things take an unexpected swerve, as it did with “La La Land?” Well, I guess we'll find out in a few weeks.
“Darkest Hour” is the token historical biopic among this year's Best Picture nominees. The latest from Joe Wright concerns Winston Churchill. It begins in 1940, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is forced to resigned, following Nazi Germany pushing the rest of the continent into war. Churchill is chosen to assume the role of P.M. It's not an easy choice. Churchill faces opposition from all sides. As he refuses to consider peace talks with the encroaching German and Italian forces, he faces the possibility of resignation himself. As the war grows more heated, and England itself becomes a target, Churchill finds himself questioning his own choices.
Surprisingly, “Darkest Hour” is more of a chamber drama than a proper war movie. I suppose the title led me to believe that the film would deal primarily with the Blitz, when the British Isles were bombarded by bombs by the German air force. Instead, “Darkest Hour” primarily takes places before this time. In an interesting coincidence, the film covers much of the same historical period as “Dunkirk” but from the other shore. In both films, the German forces are kept primarily off-screen, a threat that is spoken of more than seen. “Darkest Hour” is really about Churchill's refusal to back down from his opponents. What would normally be a stubborn politician refusing to budge is put in a very different context here. “Darkest Hour” shows Churchill standing up against the evil of Hitler and the Nazis. He's shown as a populist hero, riding a subway train and changing Parliament's opinion by speaking for the common person. Someone better attuned to British history would have a clearer opinion on this but, to me, it plays as pretty idealized.
“Darkest Hour” does not truly rise above the cliches and common tropes of award season, prestige biopics. It's pretty much exactly the kind of movie you expect it to be. However, within those parameters, the movie does fairly well. Oldman's performance is excellent, Wright's direction is strong. Dario Marianelli's score is also very good, full of strong themes and rumbling atmosphere. (Marianelli's work didn't earn a nomination, probably because of how fierce competition was in that category this year.) In an exciting Oscar season, this is the kind of film that fades into the background a bit but I still managed to appreciate it some. [7/10]