Movie review: Darkest Hour

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve finally found time to watch Gary Oldman’s Oscar picture Darkest Hour and this is my review.

IMDb summary: During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds.

Before we start discussing this film, let me link you to another Churchill biography from 2017 titled, surprise surprise, Churchill. That film focused on the closing moments of WW2 (in contrast to this movie, which explores the opening chapters of it). Also, if you want more context for Darkest Hour, you can watch Dunkirk, also from 2017: the events in that film happen at the same time as the ones in Darkest Hour.

Writing

Darkest Hour was written by Anthony McCarten (writer and producer of The Theory of Everything and a novelist) and he did a spectacular job writing for the character of Churchill (less of a stellar job constructing the story of a film but, then again, the character was the story in the case of this movie).

Churchill was presented as a complex and layered figure, one that had both flaws and redeeming features. He was basically the last choice for the position of PM and, yet he became the hero of the nation and half of the Western world. He came from a privileged background (didn’t even know the correct hand gestures) and, yet was also the man of the people (the underground scene was a great visualization of his transition from being the PM for the government to being the PM of the people). He was also a patriot through and through and, yet he decided to lie to his nation (is there ever a good enough cause to withhold the truth?). He also has worked with people with diverging opinions and personalities all his life and, yet have never really learned to comprise. In addition to being a leader, who deeply felt the loss of his troops (the fact that it is the leader’s main objective to bear the loss is as true in real life as it is in fiction, a.k.a. The Last Jedi), he was also a husband and a father, who sacrificed his family life for the public one. And yet, Churchill’s and his wife Clementine’s relationship was portrayed as a very loving and caring one. The moments of confrontation were present in it too, but the shared feeling between the two individuals was love, at its purest.

The screenwriter also did a very good job with the inclusion of Churchill’s actual speeches into the film. However, while those speeches were truly inspirational, especially the final one, probably not one of the initial listeners (other politicians) were that inspired to do any actual fighting. The scriptwriter also wrote some brilliant dialogue for Churchill and King George VI (yup, the one from The King’s Speech – this is a well cinematized period of the British history) – I especially liked the King’s change of heart moment. Darkest Hour also explored or hinted at some of the wider implications of war. The moment with Churchill calling Franklin D. Roosevelt was a perfect signal of the reversal of fortunes of the former colony and the empire. Speaking about the empire: every WW2 (or any war) movies I watch raise me a question: is there ever the good side in the war? Yes, Hitler was a monster but the British Empire was an empire, that oppressed millions of people around the globe for way longer than Hitler was in power. How do count who is worse? By human loss? By time? By subjective and personal evaluation? Lastly, some historical events portrayed in the film, when put in contemporary context, made me chuckle ironically, like the fact that the majority of the British politicians were ready to compromise, while they are not known for their ability to do the same nowadays (*cough, cough*, Brexit).

Directing

Joe Wright (of such literary adaptations as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina and mainstream missteps as Pan) tackled the Churchill biopic and was quite successful. Darkest Hour was truly a character piece, and a specific glimpse into, rather than a full-on recreation of a historical event. I loved how the camera’s focus was always on Churchill and how he occupied the center of the frame most of the time (I loved the images where Churchill was framed in doors, windows, rooms). I also thought that the drama was constructed quite well, though a film did felt a bit long. Lastly, I reached a sort of a personal epiphany that probably wasn’t intended by the director, when watching the picture. Seeing all the rooms of white old men in the positions of power was all good and appropriate for a historical drama but as soon as I saw them, I had a sad realization that this image has changed very little in the governments of today.

Acting

Gary Oldman (The Hitman’s Bodyguard was his last film – what a step-up in quality this one is) absolutely nailed the titular character. He fully transformed himself into Winston Churchill. While the physical transformation (the make-up and the prosthetics) were impressive, what I found most intriguing (and transformative) about Oldman’s performance was his demeanor, emotional intensity, and his way of speaking. I also appreciated the fact that Oldman played Churchill as a real person rather than a historical figure. By treating Churchill as a person, Oldman (and the director) found room for humor and sarcasm within the character – two things that don’t really come across in the history textbooks. Oldman has won every major acting award so far, thus, an Oscar win is almost a sure bet too.

Kristin Scott Thomas (The Party) brought warmth and strength to Clementine Churchill, while Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) was really good as King George VI and portrayed the royal as a real person rather than a larger than life figure too. Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) was good as the secretary Elizabeth Layton but her character wasn’t really necessary for the film. Also, I feel like a secretary type of character (with either a boyfriend or a family member being at war or in another kind of peril) has been included in alongside portrayal of Churchill: e.g. Ella Purnell played PM’s secretary in Churchill, while Kate Phillips played one on The Crown. Lastly, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane were good as the two main antagonists of Churchill: Neville Chamberlain and Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax, respectively.

In short, Darkest Hour was a brilliant character piece that featured a truly magnificent performance by Gary Oldman.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Darkest Hour trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Trumbo

Movie reviews

Hi Hi Hi!

Welcome to the last (probably) review of the awards’ season! This time, we are talking about Trumbo!

IMDb summary: In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood’s top screenwriter, until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.

  1. To begin with, one of the reasons why I have enjoyed Trumbo is the fact that I love movies about film-making, like Singin’ in the Rain, Hugo or even Argo (that’s also the reason while I’m looking forward to Hail, Caesar!, coming out later this month). I enjoy seeing the behind the scenes and inner workings of Hollywood. I believe that Trumbo succeeded in depicting the movie business quite accurately, at least as far as I know.
  2. The movie’s story focused on the beginning of the Cold War and the ‘Red Scare’ and McCarthyism era of the US history. I have actually just studied this topic in my English Class, while reading Arthur Miller’s (another writer who has been questioned by House of Un-American Activities Committee) The Crucible – a really nice play, which one can enjoy even without knowing its controversial context. Personally, this whole idea of ‘catching communists inside the country’ seems to be an example of that terrible kind of patriotism – the one that is born out of fear, stupidity, and human error as well as hypocrisy. However, I also think that while socialism (communism’s less radical cousin) looks good (a.k.a. democratic) on paper, it is impossible to apply to real life, because, as my anthropology lecturer put it during the last lecture, egalitarianism is a romantic myth/dream. Read Thomas Moore’s Utopia if you want a proof of that.  But, I’m going off topic, let’s go back to the actual film.
  3. The movie focused on Dalton Trumbo – an accomplished and famous screenwriter, who was one of the members of the Hollywood Ten because he refused to testify before the HUAC and fought for his beliefs and for his right to even have these different beliefs.  I have seen a few films written by Trumbo – Roman Holiday, Exodus and Spartacus (the filmmakers of Trumbo used some actual footage from these films. I think they might have tampered with the footage of Spartacus to make actor Dean O’Gorman look like the actual Kirk Douglas (the actor who played Spartacus in the 1960’s motion picture) – that close-up scene looked suspiciously different to me). I also want to watch a few other movies, based on Trumbo’s screenplays – Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo – a war drama whose poster was visible in the fictional Trumbo’s office – and The Brave One.  I liked that they didn’t try to portray Trumbo as an untouchable hero – he had his flaws (for one, being very inconsiderate of his family). I don’t know if he was like that in real life, however, in the film, since he wasn’t completely perfect, he looked/felt more realistic/more developed as a character. Seeing a film about a screenwriter also rekindled my dream of becoming a scriptwriter myself someday.
  4. The picture was written by John McNamara, whose based the screenplay on a book by Bruce Cook. I enjoyed the story of the film – after watching a lot of serious and heavy films I appreciated the lighter tone and the funny moments (although, the subject of the film was still heavy). Trumbo didn’t try to judge anyone and didn’t have that big of an emotional impact on me – on this occasion, I see it as a good thing, but it also might work against this film. Going back to the story: I think that some of the temporal transitions were very vague and too quick – it was easy to get lost in the film’s plot. In addition, the movie could have been focused up a little bit – there was no need for that many side storylines (sick friend, betrayal, problems with a daughter, wife’s backstory, that whole thing with Hedda Hopper). Speaking about the visuals, Trumbo was directed by Jay Roach. I have seen a few of the films that he has produced, but this was my introduction to him as a director. He did a nice job but there wasn’t really anything spectacular that is worth mentioning. I did like the usage of real film and newsreel footage, though. Lastly, I felt that the film was edited quite unevenly – more than once I felt that the scenes were cut short unnecessarily.
  5. The motion picture had a huge cast, led by Bryan Cranston, who played the titular character. Cranston was amazing in the role and I was really happy to see him on the big screen once again, although, I do miss him on Breaking Bad and that TV show in general. Other cast members included Diane Lane as Cleo Trumbo, Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper, Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird, Elle Fanning as Nikola Trumbo (who aged up really quickly and then stopped aging all together), John Goodman as Frank King, Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson, Alan Tudyk as Ian McLellan Hunter, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Virgil Brooks and Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas to name a few. All of the actors did a nice job with their limited screen-time.

In short, Trumbo was a great biographical drama with amazing performances from the whole cast and an easy-going tone. It showcased what happens when art (and business) get mixed up with politics.

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Trumbo trailer

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