This article is from our magazine. To view it in its original format, click here
REVIEW: Darkest Hour
By Eric Hillis, TheMovieWaffler.com
originally published: 12/26/2017
Roughly five minutes into his performance as Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s wartime biopic, Darkest Hour, I forgot I was watching Gary Oldman. It was only about a half hour later - when a photographer’s flash captured the portly PM in a monochrome freeze frame, and Oldman’s two-fingered salute and defiant expression gave the impression that Wright had subliminally edited a frame of the actor’s turn as Sid Vicious in Alex Cox’s Sid & Nancy into his film - that I was briefly reminded I was watching an iconic actor, rather than an iconic figure. Awards season hype should always be mistrusted, but Oldman really is doing something special here, embedding himself into a subconscious history most of us never lived.
Wisely ditching a cradle to grave format, Wright - like Jonathan Teplitzky, director of this year’s earlier Churchill - narrows his film’s focus to a few monumental days in the British Prime Minister’s stewardship, beginning as he takes over from Neville Chamberlain and playing out over the run up to the evacuation of Dunkirk (I think there may have also been a movie about that event this year).
Oldman became a star thanks to his turn as Sid Vicious, so perhaps it’s fitting that the role that will almost definitely land him his first Oscar sees him essay another anti-establishment figure who spent most of his waking hours in a state of inebriation. Uncouth by the stuffy standards of Westminster, Churchill makes enemies of the Royals and the Church, both of whom are happy to entertain the idea of entering into peace talks with Hitler. Churchill is initially having none of it, but as his cabinet gangs up on him and Roosevelt refuses to come to Europe’s aid, he’s forced to consider the inconsiderable.
Of course, we all know how this ends, and if you don’t, you might want to consider why you’re reading this review in English rather than German. The question thus isn’t what happened but how, and in Wright’s hands, the how is something splendid. I’ve struggled with the director in the past, but Darkest Hour shows a new, mature side of Wright, exhibiting a sense of visual storytelling that at times recalls Spielberg at his best.
Both Wright and Teplitzky’s films made a central figure out of Churchill’s personal stenographers, but the latter used his as a lazy and convenient sounding board for Brian Cox’s Churchill to verbalize his thoughts. Compare this to the cinematic manner in which Wright deploys Lily James as Elizabeth Layton, drawing the humanity out of her boss’s gruff exterior, not by her words, but merely by her presence. Both movies have scenes in which Churchill realizes his secretary has a personal interest in the decision he must make (here it’s a dead brother, killed fighting in France), but in Darkest Hour Layton keeps her emotions in check, and we see on Churchill’s face his realization that should he choose for Britain to fight, his people can carry the load.
The article continues after this ad
In another stunning moment of subtle visual craft, Layton finds herself for the first time confronted with a giant map of Europe, a small group of blue pins surrounded at Dunkirk by a continent-sized horseshoe of red pins, and her fingers caress the blue pins as she stifles her emotions. You can tell a lot of money has been pumped into Darkest Hour, and every penny is on the screen, but its best moments are minute masterclasses in how to convey something big with a small gesture. The man who turned a two-fingered salute into a symbol of strength and defiance would approve.
4 stars out of 5
Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane
Monmouth Arts Presents Sneak Peek Screening of “Never Look Away” (RED BANK, NJ) -- See the movie before New York or Los Angeles! Monmouth Arts will provide another installation of its “Film Sneak Peek” series with Never Look Away, an epic tale of art and history spanning three turbulent decades of 20th-century Germany, on November 29 at Bow Tie Cinemas in Red Bank at 7:00pm. "The Brighton Bar - Home Of Original Music" Documentary To Be Screened In Long Branch (LONG BRANCH, NJ) -- From the 1970s to today the Brighton Bar has been a live music venue and a staple of the New Jersey music scene. On Wednesday, November 28th at 7:00pm, a free showing of The Brighton Bar - Home Of Original Music - a documentary about the venue will be screened at The NJ Rep West End Arts Center.Westfield IFF and James Ward Mansion Host Pop-Up Gin Joint with Movies at the Mansion (WESTFIELD, NJ) -- Big Dreams & Silver Screens, the organization responsible for the Westfield International Film Festival, is happy to announce their end-of-year celebration and fundraiser, “Of All the Gin Joints” on December 6 at the James Ward Mansion. The evening is a Casablanca-inspired party that will feature a pop-up gin bar, light bites by Feast Catering, live music by Tony Mowatt, and a screening of Casablanca. Westfield native, Francesca Rizzo will also be screening a complementary independent noir short film, Sullivan’s Last Call – “a sexy little film about celibacy.”2018 International Film Festival Brings 4 Award Winning Foreign Films To Vineland (VINELAND, NJ) -- Enjoy four highly-acclaimed award-winning recent foreign films representing diverse cultures at the 2018 International Film Festival, starting Monday, November 26, at the Levoy Theatre, 126-130 N. High St., Millville, NJ. The four films—A Fantastic Woman, The Interpreter, 1945, and Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me—will introduce the theatergoer to the universality of themes that are common to Jewish and other international themes. They are representative of the finest of today’s international cinematographic art.NJSO presents Star Wars: A New Hope in concert on Thanksgiving weekend (NEWARK, NJ) --The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra presents screenings of the complete film Star Wars: A New Hope with Oscar-winning composer John Williams’ musical scores performed live on Thanksgiving weekend, November 23–25. Performances take place in Red Bank, Newark, and New Brunswick.
REVIEW: "First Man" The image that most defines the 20th century is that of a man standing on the surface of the moon. The man is astronaut Neil Armstrong, but we can’t see his face as he’s wearing a helmet, the glass of which reflects our collective achievement back at us. When he took a small step, we all took a giant leap with him, and Armstrong instantly became more than a mere man, a symbol. With First Man, director Damien Chazelle takes us inside the famous helmet, stripping away the symbol to tell the story of Armstrong the man.REVIEW: "Halloween" In 2013, John Carpenter’s Halloween received a 35th anniversary blu-ray release. The accompanying booklet credited the following line of dialogue to Jamie Lee Curtis’s babysitting heroine Laurie Strode: “Was it the boogeyman?” Of course, that’s a misquote. In the scene in question, Laurie admits to herself that “It WAS the boogeyman,” to which Donald Pleasence’s Doctor Loomis solemnly replies, “As a matter of fact, it was.”REVIEW: "Cold War" Back in 2006, German cinema scored something of a breakout global hit with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others, which followed the travails of a group of disgruntled, pro-western artists in communist era East Germany. At the time I couldn’t help viewing the protagonists of Von Donnersmarck’s drama as the sort of people who would be just as discontented with their lot if they found themselves living in the capitalist west. The grass is always greener on the other side.Baba Babee Skazala Among the many intriguing films being screened at New Jersey Film Festival Fall 2018, one title immediately caught our eye — Baba Babee Skazala: Grandmother Told Grandmother. NJ Film Fest Preview: October 2018 (NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- The New Jersey Film Festival Fall 2018 runs from September 14 to October 26 on the Rutgers University Campus in New Brunswick, NJ. Showcasing new international films, American independent features, animation, experimental and short subjects, and cutting-edge documentaries, the New Jersey Film Festival Fall 2018 will feature over 30 film screenings.