Biography Darkest Hour

'Darkest Hour' Film Review: A transformative performance and inventive filmmaking elevate this somewhat formulaic drama

December 8, 2017Ferdosa Abdi

An entertaining and finely crafted biopic about one of the most controversial and influential figures of the 20th century, Darkest Hour focuses on the political and personal drama that follows Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), as he becomes the Prime Minister of England during the most critical part of Europe's fight against Hitler.

Set in a time that was riddled with great horror and heroism, director Joe Wright primarily keeps the camera focused on Oldman. Hitler and the Germans are often spoken about, but never seen, and, likewise, some of the great battles of World War II, such as Dunkirk, are mentioned, but also go unseen. The drama is set largely in England's parliament and the war room. Yet, Wright manages to turn what could have been a dreadfully boring tale of the behind-the-scenes drama that occurred during the Second World War into something incredibly compelling.

All the enclosed spaces provide Oldman with the platform to become Churchill. But while he is very good — and delivers one of the most transformative performances of his career — the other real star is the movie's visual style. Wright applies his unconventional filmmaking techniques to this fairly conventional story of a political leader dealing with a tumultuous period in his country's history, and the result — from the framing, to the camera angles, and even the transitions — provide this drawn-out drama with the kinetic energy it needs to hold the audience's attention.

That said, the story is generally predictable, which is due to it being one that has been written about many times in history textbooks. The script by Anthony McCarten offers nothing new or interesting about Churchill, other than the fact that while he was a hero in his own right, he wasn't the hero the film paints him to be. In fact, this is a rather soft portrayal of the infamous leader, but seeing as how it's also a somewhat fictionalized portrayal of a real individual, Oldman's portrait of Churchill as someone who not only wants to save his country, but who also wants to save the world, is extremely fascinating.

Suffice to say, World War II was a troubling time in which many sacrifices were made and many leaders lacked the backbone to do anything to stop the suffering. Churchill, on the other hand, was very firm about his belief in destroying Hitler, no matter the cost. For their part, Oldman and Wright paint a portrait of a man who does not want to lead his country to the slaughter. Instead, this Churchill is a man who is constantly contradicting the assumptions made about him.

It is intriguing to watch how the character's mind works, and Oldman's brilliant performance should be lauded for the way it — along with Wright's inventive filmmaking — elevates this rather formulaic story. Darkest Hour is a biopic that breaks the mold, and since a segment of Wright's 2007 film, Atonement, takes place at Dunkirk, it would be interesting if Wright capped off this unofficial trilogy with his own depiction of those events.

Darkest Hour releases December 8th, 2017 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for some thematic material. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 5 min.

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