Movie Review: “Darkest Hour”

There is a good reason why “Darkest Hour” has already started picking up major film award nominations. This new Hollywood blockbuster is one of the best films of the year, offering a new and entertaining look at one of the most dramatic moments in world history. Not to mention that it features an epic performance by Gary Oldman in the role of Winston Churchill.

“Darkest Hour” is driven forward by Gary Oldman’s riveting performance as Winston Churchill

The starting point for any review of “Darkest Hour,” of course, starts and ends with Gary Oldman. He gives the performance of the year as Winston Churchill, perfectly capturing every inflection, every mannerism and every eye movement of this legendary historical figure. He steals every scene that he’s in, and none more so than the final, climactic scene of the movie, when he gives a rousing, uplifting final speech, imploring Britain to “never surrender.”

In fact, if you’re like most movie audience members, you’ll probably be standing and cheering by the end of the film. You know how it ends and you know that Britain will rally and find the self-determination and courage to defeat the evil Nazis, but the cinematic journey is a thrilling one nonetheless. You can thank Gary Oldman for that – he is simply captivating as Winston Churchill.

“Darkest Hour” captures the riveting story of a brave nation at war

Looking back at the annals of history, it’s easy to remember only the single, glorious moments – the final victory on the battlefield, the rousing speech that unites a nation, or the individual acts of courage and heroism that occur during wartime. What “Darkest Hour” reminds us is that war is a horrible, wrenching reality filled with ups and downs. There are “dark hours” when even the bravest and most courageous find it difficult to push forward. And, of course, there is the “darkest hour” of them all – the moment when surrender actually seems possible.
As a result, “Darkest Hour” has been almost universally applauded for its depiction of the full epic sweep of war – including all the moments of self-doubt of Britain’s most noble leaders. In fact, as we learn from the film, even Winston Churchill himself was plagued by notions that he might have made the wrong choice about standing up to Nazi Germany. And yet, to the world around him, he had to project an attitude of perfect self-confidence and unflappable courage.

Many of the most gripping moments of the film, in fact, are those moments when we see the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the British government. We see the tiny moments of weakness when the thought was that Britain could not possibly carry on its wartime endeavor against Nazi Germany. Of course, that required Winston Churchill to marshal all resources possible to pull together the British nation to persevere.

“Darkest Hour” has an uplifting message that the whole family can enjoy

Part of the reason for the film’s box office success (nearly $100 million on a budget of just $30 million) has been the mass appeal of the film for everybody. This is wartime, as we’ve never seen it before. There are dramatic action scenes of the war that occur in the film, but the core focus of the film is the inner workings of the British government. We see how statecraft is made. This elevates the film from just being a “war movie” or just being a “biopic.” It is thrilling drama as well.

And in the process, we learn new details about the war and the brave British citizens who rallied against the threat of Nazi Germany. It’s a stirring, uplifting message and certainly one that all generations can enjoy. Quite simply, “Darkest Hour” is a film to be shared with young and old alike. The story of heroism is timeless, and one that fathers and mothers can share with their children.

“Darkest Hour” features a stellar supporting cast

While Gary Oldman rightfully takes top billing as the legendary historical figure of Winston Churchill, there are plenty of other cast members who help to flesh out this cinematic tale of riveting humanity. For example, there is Churchill’s wife Clementine (played by Kristen Scott Thomas), who plays a necessary rock and refuge for her husband throughout the film. And don’t forget about Churchill’s secretary (played by Lily James) or King George (played by Ben Mendelsohn). All these cast members help to round out this timeless story of Britain during World War II.

“Darkest Hour” is more relevant than ever for American movie audiences

There is something distinctly timeless about this stunning new biopic by director Joe Wright. Many of us grew up reading about Winston Churchill in our history books. We might have even listened to the voice of Winston Churchill, imploring his nation to stay the course during wartime. But we never perhaps visualized what was actually happening in Britain at the time.

As the film shows us, Britain was very internally divided at the time. At the outset, even the British king was not supportive of the new Prime Minister, thrusting Churchill’s role into doubt from the very outset. Add in all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and the constant efforts to undermine Churchill by members of his government, and a very different picture emerges than the one we are traditionally shown in the history books.

In short, war-torn Britain during the 1940’s very much mirrors the current situation in America right now, making the film more relevant than you might expect. We see that even a proud, resilient nation can suffer from infighting, and that even the bravest amongst us can feel challenged when things are not going right. That might, indeed, be the major takeaway message for U.S. movie audiences: never surrender, never give up, even in the darkest hour.

Will there be an Oscar for “Darkest Hour” in 2018?

It will be interesting to see how “Darkest Hour” fares at the Academy Awards this year, and whether or not a fascination with World War II will once again take hold in this nature. After “Dunkirk,” we now have “Darkest Hour.” It’s clear that Hollywood filmmakers have tapped into something very real and important in the national ethos. If there was ever an actor deserving of an Oscar in 2018, it is the inimitable Gary Oldman. In short, “Darkest Hour” is movie making at its very finest, and needs to be on the radars of any movie critic thinking about the best movies of 2017.