‘DARKEST HOUR’ (2017) Movie Review – Gary Oldman’s Incredible Churchill Performance
Darkest Hour is a biographical war drama directed by Joe Wright and starring Gary Oldman in what is one of his all-time greatest performances as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The plot, which takes place over a few weeks in 1940 revolves around Churchill and his decision of whether to negotiate with Hitler or continue to fight on against a seemingly unstoppable force. This is the second film of 2017 and one of two best picture nominees that features the historical events at Dunkirk as a central plot point, the other being Christopher Nolan’s aptly titled war thriller Dunkirk. This however is not as action packed as Dunkirk and doesn’t incorporate as much dramatic intensity, rather this is more concerned with the political fight as oppose to the physical one. Now where this movie shines with its incredible lead performance it is let down by a narrative that can’t seem to retain any sort of dramatic engagement for a lengthy period of time.
All of my issues with this film are more or less contained within its story, it constantly fluctuates between engaging and borderline boring where at some points I’m wholly invested in the plot progressing and for other entire sequences I just zone out. Unfortunately though the low points of the story do outweigh the highs, so if anything it is disappointing. Although I’d say it is still fairly steadily paced throughout but some sequences are stretched for a bit too long lending to the fact that I believe the movie could be 15 minutes shorter and a little more concise without jeopardising the story. The one element that is phenomenal from beginning to end and single handedly holds together the entire film is Gary Oldman as Churchill. Even when it gets to sequences I’m not invested in I can still draw some enjoyment from Oldman’s performance because it is so charismatic and electric that you just feel his energy radiating through the screen.
In more ways than one Oldman completely disappears into the role, getting so into the character and honed in on this personality that I regularly forgot it was even him. He brings about a number of fun, quirky, and somewhat humorous moments to this story that is hinged around a very serious and dire time in British and world history. Oldman shares a number of great scenes (some of my favourite scenes) with Lily James who plays Churchill’s secretary. They have a tonne of chemistry together and I loved her performance in the film even though it will be completely overshadowed by Oldman. I also do like the way it is shot, the set design, the cinematography, and to some extent the score as well, all of these elements aren’t incredible but they all work together well and definitely noteworthy.
So in the end, I’d say Darkest Hour is still a good war drama for the most part held up by Oldman’s potentially Oscar-winning performance but the inconsistencies in the plot are a let down. The movie can be paired with Dunkirk as a companion piece providing some further insight in the more political events surrounding that evacuation, so I guess it also (unintentionally) has that going for it. Of the best picture nominees, I’m not sure this is a must watch as it’s one of the weaker entries but it is definitely worth checking out for Oldman’s performance alone. This will almost certainly be his year and he’ll take home his best actor Oscar.