Gary Oldman’s finest hour.
Back in September of 2017, buzz began swirling around a film making its rounds in the film festival circuit, which is typically a common occurrence. What made this buzz different for this film, however, was the rumor of it featuring an awards worthy performance from a tremendous actor who has been long overdue for such accolades. That film was the World War II set Darkest Hour, and the actor was Hollywood veteran Gary Oldman. With Oldman racking up the awards for his performance, including the Golden Globe for “Best Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama”, Darkest Hour has finally received a wider release in the hopes of proving Oldman’s performance lives up to the hype.
Darkest Hour begins in May of 1940, where British Parliament has grown uneasy due to the lack of action by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup). Chamberlain is replaced by General Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), a seemingly past his prime politician whose reputation as a drunkard and a militant makes him unpopular in the government. Churchill finds himself and his country under fire, as Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany are imposing their force and taking down Europe country by country. Churchill must overcome his reputation and the seemingly unstoppable Nazis before Great Britain is invaded and is no more.
The biggest compliment I can give the film is all the hype surrounding Oldman’s performance is warranted. Oldman has the reputation of being a great actor despite appearing in critically maligned films from time to time, and has never gotten his due via an Oscar win. His performance in Darkest Hour should change that, as his alcoholic dialogue slurring, cigar smoking, and motivational speaking all highlight an actor at his apex, and is the clear favorite to walk away with Oscar gold this March.
Two other noteworthy performances come from veteran actress Kristen Scott Thomas, who plays Churchill’s wife, Clementine, and Ben Mendelsohn, who plays King George VI. Scott Thomas adds more humanity to the film by representing the balance to Churchill’s life, and it’s a shame her solid performance didn’t garner any awards attention. Ben Mendelsohn also delivers a solid performance as King George VI, and the development of the relationship between George VI and Churchill is one of the more intriguing aspects of the film.
The rest of the film, unfortunately, can’t match the quality of the lead and aforementioned performances. Even at a running time of just over 2 hours, the film poorly paced war film from director Joe Wright plays like a history lecture you’d be tempted to fall asleep during. The grey color palette doesn’t help accentuate the setting either, and the film rarely flashes to battles during World War II to wake the audience up. Young starlet Lily James, who left a huge impression on most with her performance in Baby Driver earlier in 2017, hardly resonates in the film as an assistant of Churchill’s, a waste of a young, talented performer.
Darkest Hour benefits greatly from a surely Oscar worthy performance from its lead actor and a couple of other solid supporting performances. The rest of the film, however, can’t quite match the quality its lead performer has. Gary Oldman deserves to take a bow for his finest hour as an actor and walk away with a little golden man, but Darkest Hour is nowhere near deserving of its “Best Picture” Oscar nomination, making it the weakest of the Academy Award’s “Best Picture” bunch.
Rating: 2/4 stars. Rent it.
Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ronald Pickup, and Ben Mendelsohn. It is in theaters now.