Gary Oldman is Great in the Just-OK ‘Darkest Hour’

Darkest_Hour_posterIt worked for Colin Firth and Meryl Streep, and portraying a 20th century British politician may finally get Gary Oldman his own Oscar.

“Darkest Hour” details the first month of Winston Churchill’s term as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the early stages of World War II. Oldman stars as Churchill while Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane and Ronald Pickup also star. Joe Wright directs.

I was looking forward to this one. From the first released image of Oldman as Churchill it was clear that he was going to fully inhabit the role, buried beneath layers of makeup, a fat suit and always with a cigar in hand. As expected Oldman turns in a powerhouse performance but the film surrounding him doesn’t bring the same energy or panache.

Gary Oldman is one of the finest actors of his generation and got his first career Academy Award nomination a few years back for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Some may say that a film like “Darkest Hour” is Oscar-bait and Oldman is putting himself under copious amounts of makeup to portray a real life person all in an effort to finally hoist the golden statue. They wouldn’t be wrong (Oldman spent over 200 hours in the makeup chair and smoked 400 cigars over the course of production), but he will surely deserve any and all awards headed this way.

From shouting at his fellow politicians to quietly spatting with his loyal wife, Oldman embodies the Prime Minister even if sometimes that trademark mumble and slurring makes things hard to understand. There are only brief moments where we see Gary Oldman beneath the prosthetics; for all intents and purposes we are watching Winston Churchill.

I love me a good period piece and there have been a lot of great World War II films in recent years. From “The Imitation Game” to this year’s “Dunkirk” (which shares a plotline with this film), Hollywood has put out numerous engaging and detailed films about one of the greatest conflicts in human history. “Darkest Hour” wants to show the story behind one of the most important figures of the war, however what could be covered in 90 minutes is drawn out to a little over two hours.

When the film starts, Winston Churchill gets begrudgingly selected to replace Neville Chamberlain (a role originally to be played by the late, great John Hurt before he had to drop put to battle his cancer), only to get questioned and desired to be replaced right away by the very men who put him there. Everyone seems to hate that Churchill does not wish to seek peace talks with the Nazis yet act surprised when he in fact does wish to fight in place of surrender. This goes on for two hours, never really building any real momentum or stakes.

The film’s best moments are the speeches in the Parliament building, full of sweeping cinematography and loud shouting matches, and one sequence towards the end of the film where Churchill rides the Underground with normal citizens and asks them their thoughts on the impending conflict. The in-between feels like filler, and often dull one at that.

“Darkest Hour” will likely only be remembered as the vehicle used by a deserving actor to get his long-overdue Academy Award, much like “The Revenant” (as great as it is) will probably always just be “Leo’s Oscar bait.” But for fans of Gary Oldman or those who like the quieter, less battle-filled aspects of war, “Darkest Hour” may be worth a one-time watch; it’s just a shame the film isn’t as great as the performance that carries it.

Critics Rating: 5/10

Focus Features

2 thoughts on “Gary Oldman is Great in the Just-OK ‘Darkest Hour’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s