- Product Rating -

Darkest Hour

| December 22, 2017

The amount of biopics and movies based around historical events is largely consistent for any given year, but 2017 really is, for some reason, the year of the Battle of Dunkirk in cinema. After Their Finest, Churchill, and Dunkirk all coming out within the past eight months, we now get Darkest Hour—just one more movie of the sort and we can make an Oscar category for Best Dunkirk Feature. With that said, Joe Wright’s latest is more of the same to a sometimes-sickening extent. Despite a strong performance at the center of it all, the film serves absolutely no purpose other than to galvanize awards voters and rack up its own army of golden little men, an effort that will never be spoken about when awards season has come and gone.

In 1940 England, the newly appointed Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) is in the midst of deciding whether or not to negotiate a peace treaty with Adolf Hitler or to wage war against them, the Battle of Dunkirk in the process and Nazi forces closing in on the United Kingdom. I usually don’t like giving a movie a one-sentence synopsis, but that’s incredibly fitting here given how shallow Darkest Hour is. Upon its beginning, I figured that I had gotten what I signed up for: a prestigious period piece based on true events and centering on a historical figure who is surrounded by a stacked cast and a mahogany color palette. Oldman’s work here is the only aspect to really speak of here. While I feared that it would be a performance drowned in latex and a fat suit, the acting here does happen to transcend the damnation of prosthetics actually doing all of the work. In addition to Oldman being unrecognizable, his delivery and physicality work hand-in-hand to ground the movie in its duller moments, which happen to make up a vast majority of the film overall.

The filmmaking here is the epitome of fine. Locations are handsomely mounted and there are moments of Wright’s direction that, while not quite enough to be called inspired, are a bit more high-energy than one would expect, often by way of quickly edited inserts and a few camera movements brought to fruition by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis), who also dowses some scenes in so many filters that they become minor eyesores. Nothing really stands about but is instead serviceable and occasionally punctuated by a nice flourish or two. That’s Darkest Hour as a whole: it’s staggeringly by-the-numbers and unremarkable when it isn’t throwing the audience a bone.

That would largely be because the script from Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) has no ambitions aside from ticking the boxes of awards bait status quo. Acting as a summation of history and lacking any real insight, the overly patriotic themes and painted in black-and-white ways unable to invite any sort of moral gray area. Decisions are depicted in a way distanced from the audience as to prevent understanding as to rationales or intentions in more than the most rudimentary of ways, and the pacing suffers drastically as a result. Amongst the many sins of Darkest Hour and its disinterest in anything above mediocre, the worst part of it is that it’s boring. At over two hours, it shows the audience a plethora of supporting characters and objectifies them in that lazy screenwriting fashion of everyone aside from the protagonist lacking any sort of personal lives or discernible qualities. Actors such as Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, and Stephen Dillane are trying, but trying is a bit of a lost cause when the most that can be done is to just act as empty vessels of information.

Darkest Hour is a story that doesn’t have to be told. It’s not that it doesn’t have to be told because it’s been told multiple times already, but it’s because the ways in which it’s told are insubstantial and repetitive in tone, content, and context. It’s something that is stinging in how dull it can be, like a gunshot wound being sterilized with low-end scotch as cigar smoke clouds the heads of your helpers.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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