The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman puts on a ton of prosthetic makeup to play Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, and that's probably all you need to know about it. Do you get a show-stopping performance that's worth the price of admission all by itself? Of course you do. The film as a whole is a bit flawed, but when you put such a glorious piece of acting into the recreation of a captivating piece of history, it's hard to go too far wrong.

As the movie begins, Hitler's Germany is on the brink of completely conquering Western Europe. Parliament has given the ax to Neville Chamberlain, whom they no longer trust. Churchill steps into the position of Prime Minister and immediately begins ruffling feathers. There are factions that want him to attempt peace talks. He adamantly refuses to negotiate with Hitler. Darkest Hour depicts how Churchill, with some behind-the-scenes help from his secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), crafts a series of speeches to rally his colleagues and the public into supporting his strategy of standing firm against the encroaching evil.

Churchill was a larger-than-life man, so it's entirely appropriate that Oldman plays him in such a manner. The actor provides a blustery quality that effectively demonstrates both how he puts people off and, later, inspires them with his leadership. Portraying someone of Churchill's stature can be a challenge, because the temptation is there to go too big with it. Oldman avoids that, capturing the grandness of Churchill's personality without showboating. This is an interesting, full-blooded interpretation of a key historical figure.

Darkest Hour focuses not just on Churchill's attempts to stand up against Nazi Germany, but also on the way others in Parliament try to prevent him from rocking the boat any further. At one point, there's an effort to get him to state on the record that he won't consider peace talks, because it's believed the public will turn against him. The complex political maneuvering between countries and individuals is captured so that you realize how many obstacles were astonishingly overcome to result in eventual victory.

Director Joe Wright (Anna Karenina, Hanna) is undeniably an impressive visualist, although his storytelling skills are sometimes lacking. He utilizes a few “hip,” contemporary stylistic techniques to avoid having Darkest Hour feel too Masterpiece Theater-y. That has the effect of sometimes overshadowing the plot. You start to notice the style, which distracts from the content. It's also disappointing that Kristin Scott Thomas is given too little to do as Churchill's wife Clementine. She's terrific in her few scenes, meaning one can't help but want more.

Enough about Darkest Hour works to make it worth seeing, though. The story of Winston Churchill has been dramatized before. Gary Oldman's strong work allows it to seem fresh. This is a case where the lead performance is so commanding that it compensates for any minor missteps the picture may make.

( out of four)

Darkest Hour is rated PG-13 for some thematic material. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.

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