Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review of DARKEST HOUR: Channeling Churchill

February 15, 2018

I knew Winston Churchill only as Great Britain's Prime Minister during World War II, the contemporary of FDR of the United States and Adolph Hitler of Nazi Germany. Maybe I know a quote of his about "blood, sweat and tears." However, apart from those shallow pieces of knowledge, I do not know much anymore about the person he was nor his exact achievements during the war. Getting to know this historical personality through this film would serve as the impetus to make me read more about him afterwards, as it usually happens to me for other historical films I watched before. 

The story of "Darkest Hour" begins in May 1940 when then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlaine was forced to resign by the British Parliament for perceived incompetence regarding national security against Nazi Germany. Despite his unpopularity because of his abrasive personality and seemingly reckless decisions, Winston Churchill was still named as the new Prime Minister. The rest of the film recounts his contentious relationship with his War Cabinet which includes pro-peace Viscount Halifax, and Churchill's decisions during  the Dunkirk siege.

So, thank to the coincidence that Christopher Nolan's film "Dunkirk" was released just about six months ago so we are already familiar with what happened on the battle front. "Darkest Hour" tells us what was happening in the War Room back in London that led to what happened on that beach in Dunkirk. This was a pure political drama, all talk and arguments. It was amazing that director Joe Wright was able to hold our interest for two hours. 

The film had been nominated for six Oscars for Best Picture, Actor, Cinematography, Production Design, Makeup and Costumes. The absence of a Best Director nomination for Joe Wright does not bode to well for its chances for Best Picture. These technical citations for historical realism are in stark contrast to the other nominees for more fantastical subject matter. Acting of supporting actors like Kristin Scott-Thomas (as Churchill's wife Clementine) and Ben Mendelsohn (as King George VI) had also been cited by other awards bodies. 

The success of this film was due in large part to the performance of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. Critics and audiences alike have been unanimous with the praises for his uncanny impersonation. As I had confessed earlier, I had no idea about how he acted or how he spoke in real life, so I cannot comment on the accuracy of his impersonation. I was actually very surprised with some bombastic behavior and pronouncements shown in some scenes. However, it was the intensity and sincerity of Oldman's performance rang truest in those passionate speeches he delivered and quiet personal moments he shared.

Of course, since the real Gary Oldman does not look a thing like Winston Churchill, a major part of his winning performance was thanks to his meticulous make-up team. Honestly though, do you know Gary Oldman really looks like? This actor is a true chameleon, he can really disappear into any character he played, be it Sid Vicious ("Sid and Nancy,"1986), Lee Harvey Oswald ("JFK," 1991), Count Dracula ("Bram Stoker's Dracula," 1992), Ludwig Van Beethoven ("Immortal Beloved," 1994), Sirius Black ("Harry Potter" films, 2004-11) or George Smiley ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," 2011). 

His performance in "Darkest Hour" was certainly his master work as actor. There was practically nothing left of Oldman in his portrayal of Churchill. Following the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild trophies he had already won, Oldman is practically a sure lock as Best Actor come Oscar time. This Oscar is not just in recognition for this one truly remarkable performance of his, but will also be a lifetime achievement award for his career as a movie actor as well. 7/10. 

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