“Darkest Hour” showcases Oldman’s talent
February 5, 2018
“Darkest Hour” shares similarities with 2013 Best Picture nominee, “Lincoln;” in that it takes a well-known historical figure, in this case Winston Churchill, and gives a focused look at what the film sees as the most momentous few days of the figures life. In “Lincoln” it was Honest Abe’s fight to ratify the thirteenth amendment, for Churchill we see him take up the mantle of Prime Minister and be immediately challenged with the imminent death of the English army. If you watched “Dunkirk” this year and wanted a peek into the political discourse that lead to those events, “Darkest Hour” gives its take on that.
While watching this film, it almost felt like someone thought, “Let’s get Gary Oldman an Oscar,” grabbed Oldman and threw him into the center of a historical drama. This obviously doesn’t give enough credit to the work that went into making the movie, but everything outside of Oldman’s turn as Churchill seemed fairly average. In the wake of Churchill, the remaining characters have little time to gain their own development. The audience gets just enough information on each person for their role in the plot to make sense, but it is hard to get truly invested in them unless you bring in your own historical knowledge.
The actors portray these characters faithfully, so their lack of depth is never distracting, but it could have been stronger. The only standout side characters where King George, who we begin to understand why he feels the ways he does about Churchill, and Clemmie, Churchill’s secretary, who like the king, has an attitude change towards Churchill.
The plot never gains the momentum it could because we already know the end and the challenges (or challenge, really) faced in getting to that end are not endowed with enough weight to feel truly impactful. The conflict of the film is just different forms of “Churchill is too aggressive, we need to make a peace agreement,” with Churchill responding, “We can’t because, you know, Hitler.” Even this lone conflict doesn’t quite take off, though the future of all the United Kingdom is at stake because we keep hearing about Churchill being too aggressive, we don’t see it. In fact, we don’t see any flaws in Churchill and it’s hard to see why, particularly in a true story, anyone would oppose him if everything he does is working. This causes much of the tension to fall by the wayside and even the ending to fall a bit flat, but this Oldman guy prevents it from becoming a faceplant.
When going to see this film, you’re really just coming for an incredible performance from Oldman. It pulls out all the Oscar bait-y stops (makeup, famous historical figure, speech changes), but, while this may never be his most remembered role, it was certainly one of his more challenging. Oldman is able to convey a range of emotions through a mask, several layers thick, of makeup and prosthetics. He gets Churchill’s speech pattern down exceptionally well. On each scene he is in, which is almost all of them, he steals the attention of the audience and brings the emotions of the scene, whether tension, remorse or happiness, to higher levels. Obviously, the highest points are when he breathes meaning into the already strong Churchill speeches.
The film is almost entirely talking and almost entirely just Churchill talking, which certainly won’t be for everyone. Many parts of this film, the side characters, plot and some dialogue seem average (though certainly not bad) for a historical piece and it’s hard to see this film gaining much of an attraction without Gary Oldman in it. But that’s like saying “Star Wars” wouldn’t be cool if it didn’t take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. For WWII buffs, this will probably be interesting just to get a glimpse of the political intrigue. Plus, some of the flaws of the film are lessened if coming in with knowledge on the subject. For anyone interested, you might as well be coming to see “Gary Oldman: Oscar Movie.”