Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far: http://www.largeassmovieblogs.com/2018/01/the-lamb-devours-the-oscars-2018-roster.html
Today, Rebecca Sharp from Almost Ginger is here to look at another Best Picture nominee, Darkest Hour.
It is a 2006 film directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington about an agent who travels back in time to save New Orleans from a terrorist attack. It’s also a song on Beyonce’s second solo album B’Day that, coincidentally, was also released in 2006. It is a french term which describes the feeling of sameness, disagreeable familiarity or the illusion that you have experienced something before.
Déjà Vu. That is possibly the shortest and most accurate review of Darkest Hour.
Featuring the third most notable Winston Churchill portrayal in one year and the third film to retell the story of the Dunkirk rescue mission in WWII, Darkest Hour can only hope that if a good story is worth telling, film audiences will be more than happy to hear it three times.
Darkest Hour is a Winston Churchill biopic and covers his life in the historic month of May 1940. During this month, Churchill is sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Britain after Neville Chamberlain is ousted by the opposition. He is a wild card: unpredictable, stubborn and opposes signing a peace treaty with Germany when it seems like it’s Britain’s only chance to not lose the war. He is running out of time, supporters and opportunities to rescue the British forces trapped at Dunkirk and Calais by German troops. At this rate, it would take a miracle for Britain to not have to surrender to Germany and Churchill is, apparently, that miracle.
Might we have not already been spoiled by a Winston Churchill performance from John Lithgow for the past two years in Netflix’s The Crown, Brian Cox’s portrayal in Churchill (2017) and the sheer triumph of the rescue of Dunkirk in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017) this could be an impressive film, with a very impressive turn by Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.
And had we not already seen the men on Dunkirk beach be successfully rescued against all odds twice within a year, that too might also seem like a rather impressive story to tell.
But we have. And it needs to be taken into account upon viewing Darkest Hour.
The big hoo-hah around this film rests firmly on the shoulders of Gary Oldman. Currently sans Academy Award, the press would have us believe he is simply desperate for an Oscar and gosh damn, it’s about time he had one. Good supporting characters (which this film has) and strong, emotive narrative equate to nothing in Darkest Hour without a good Churchill. This perhaps explains why Churchill (2017) seemed to pass by in a whiff of cigar smoke, because Brian Cox ain’t got nothing on Oldman.
There’s no doubt that Gary Oldman is a true professional and excels playing the characture of Winston Churchill. It’s almost impossible to believe this is the same man who portrayed Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy (1986). He’s smothered in prosthetics and layers of blubber that make him unrecognisable to any of his previous roles. Oldman has mastered ticks, the accent and the posture. His commitment to the role is truly the strongest part of the film.
Without other recent portrayals to compare Oldman’s to, this would be a standout performance. But context is important. Lithgow and Cox also give career-making, if slightly lesser than Oldman’s, performances as Churchill. It begs the thought: If Lithgow and Cox could give just as committed and authentic performances as Churchill, who else could? Is it really the Hamlet of film roles we’ve made
it out to be?
And the film’s focus on the suicide mission that was the Dunkirk rescue, the impossibility of its success, the almost stupidity of it’s go ahead… after watching three films say the same thing three times, hasn’t the amazing triumph of Dunkirk lost it’s magnitude? Are we really expected to still be impressed and on the edge of our seat after we’ve seen it so many times? Does Dunkirk still seem so impossible?
It might seem unfair to compare the film so staunchly to it’s predessessors, but if this film thinks it still has a story worth telling and something to give us, after we’ve already been given it before, it better have the kudos to follow through. Unfortunately, Chuchill (2017) isn’t the Mirror Mirror (2012) to Darkest Hour’s Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). Because Churchill is equally as good as Darkest Hour, just with a smaller marketing budget it seems.
The rest of Darkest Hour besides Oldman’s Churchill is very solid. The huge, imposing calendar counting down dates doesn’t let the audience forget just how fast decisions had to be made. It hopes to build stress and up the ante. The cinematography is often ridged and well-placed at a slight distance, giving the characters room to breath and to allow Churchill’s cigar smoke to fill the frame. Everything is very dark and foggy, as you might expect in war time London. There’s no space for colour when there’s work to be done.
Ultimately, Darkest Hour has a disappointing feeling of sameness despite it’s many good qualities. Head into Darkest Hour without prior knowledge of the films before and it may entice you and get your heart racing in all the places it wants you to. The supporting performances will delight and the blood, sweat and toil that has clearly gone into the making of the film will be evident. Watch it within the context of the rest of 2017’s films however, and Gary Oldman’s Oscar might not be as safe a bet as it should have been.
In terms of how it stacks up with the rest of the Best Picture nominees, Darkest Hour’s lacklustre, colour-by-numbers storytelling is very unlikely to make any waves with the Academy members. With films like Get Out, Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name in the running, it’s going to be difficult for well-trodden narratives from the past to still be relevant to an awarding body that’s desperate to be a pioneer in the future of the film industry.
What do you think of Darkest Hour‘s chances?