Gary Oldman becomes one with Winston Churchill in a career-best performance in Joe Wright’s rousing period drama.
Rating: 3.5 stars / B+
“You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.”
Gary Oldman is one of the most underrated actors of the last thirty years, but with this performance—a career best—as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, he should finally get his due, and could culminate in him winning the Oscar for Best Leading Actor (he betta!). We often talk about a dancer and the dance, or a cellist and the cello becoming one, but here actor and historical figure become one in an extraordinary transformation, amid some really heavy makeup and costuming (literally a heavy one as Oldman dons a fat suit).
But the thing is he is able to transcend all that weight and perform the challenging role effortlessly. Not all have that gift—even Leonardo DiCaprio (and poor, old Armie Hammer) struggled under heavy ageing makeup (albeit a pretty bad one) as the eponymous character in Clint Eastwood’s decidedly-mixed J. Edgar (2011).
Joe Wright, the skilled director of such films as Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007), bounces back from the critical dud that is the fantasy blockbuster Pan (2015), with a topical film on patriotism and politics. Wright is comfortably back at home in a period piece, lensed by Bruno Delbonnel, who takes a page out of his own work, the Coens’s Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), which is marked by low-key, subdued lighting. In Darkest Hour, we see that utilised to great effect, as Churchill operates in the shadows, or is lit by just a single light source.
Long-time Wright’s composer, Dario Marianelli, also delivers one of his most beautiful if straightforward scores, almost reminiscent of the style of Alexandre Desplat, particularly his work for British biopics such as The Queen (2006) or The King’s Speech (2010).
Much of Darkest Hour centers on Churchill’s initial appointment as Prime Minister at the time of war and the ensuing month in office, including the critical events at Dunkirk (so intensely recreated in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, and coincidentally, elegiacally composed by Wright himself in Atonement in what is one of the medium's most astonishing long takes).
History aficionados may dig this movie, but I suspect it doesn’t offer more than what they already know, which might ultimately prove disappointing. For the rest, myself included, who aren’t diehard history buffs but are fascinated by larger-than-life figures, Wright’s film should prove a rousing, even inspiring, delight.
Review #1,529 / © Eternality Tan http://filmnomenon.
Photocredit @ Focus Features
Darkest Hour opens in cinemas on 4 January. Click below to secure your seats instantly right here at Popcorn.