Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Movie with Abe: Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour
Directed by Joe Wright
Released November 22, 2017

Winston Churchill is a man made for the cinema. World War II has been dramatized in many films, and it’s no surprise that the charismatic world leader who was elevated to a seat of power right at its height has played a significant part in many of them. Recently referenced as an offscreen influence in “Dunkirk” and featured heavily on “The Crown” in an Emmy-winning performance by John Lithgow, Churchill is back at the center of his own story in this dramatic thriller set during a crucial moment in time for his country.

Ousted by Parliament, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) resigns from his post and reluctantly appoints Churchill (Gary Oldman) for the job. Aided by a new secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), and the advice of his wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), Churchill assumes the responsibility of steering his nation in the face of a potential invasion, pressured by the likes of his political opponent, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) to consider an option that strikes him as completely unacceptable: enter into peace negotiations with Hitler rather than rally for the next chapter of a war that threatens to decimate his country’s entire army.

Oldman may not strike many as the obvious choice to play Churchill, but the chameleon-like actor has disguised himself in unrecognizable roles before, including the one that landed him his first Oscar nomination, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” He’s all but guaranteed to win the Oscar this time around for a fully immersive portrayal that doesn’t just have him looking the part but more than comfortably delivering passionate speeches and calls to action without ever seeming like anyone other than Churchill himself. He’s matched well in scenes by Mendelsohn and Thomas, both of whom know exactly how to play off of him and still remain relevant and compelling. James provides the film’s heart, and Dillane its antagonistic energy.

The timing of this film’s release makes it a fitting companion to Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” from this past summer, filling in the other side of the story and remaining tethered to the political happenings in the United Kingdom. Wright, who previously made the powerful “Atonement,” includes just selected flashes to the war itself, choosing instead to focus on his magnetic central character, who commands the film with his immutable gusto. Assisted by a strong score, this film is interesting and engaging throughout and saves its most emphatic and energizing speech for last, going out on a boisterous and thrilling note.


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