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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Review of the Darkest Hour

CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE

A WWII drama worth watching

It feels like every year births another high-stakes WWII drama. Given to us this year was Joe Wright’s “The Darkest Hour,” the simple question remaining: Is it worth watching? I’m arguing yes, it is, but depending on the motive for seeing the film. If I watched for historical purposes: yes, the movie deals with many of the hurdles leading to Operation Dynamo. If I watched for acting purposes: absolutely, based off Oldman’s performance I’d argue Churchill still lives, reprising his career as prime minister in this film. For flashy entertainment? No. The biggest fault of “The Darkest Hour” lies in its shot length.

Focusing first on the largest positive: Gary Oldman. Gary Oldman is an actor who rarely disappoints, with stunning performances in critically acclaimed films like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Such expertise carries into “The Darkest Hour” and can be seen in his fine-tuning of even the smallest details, like how Churchill smokes his cigar. The commitment to mime even the minute details is testimony to Oldman’s extensive work on character, which pays off by assisting his outstanding performance.  

The largest misstep of “The Darkest Hour” is in the length of certain shots. For example, there are two shots of crowded British streets, bustling with cars and people. The shot is taken, both times, from Churchill’s car window view. The purpose of the shot is quite clear, achieving two things. Firstly, they humanize Churchill’s decisions. Made for the British, Churchill’s decisions are made for the everyday people of Britain, yet the people aren’t seen in Churchill’s war room. These shots show exactly what he aims to protect: the people.

Secondly, they humanize Churchill. In his war room, where much of the film occurs, Churchill deals constantly with humans represented as numbers, and this makes his difficult decisions, that put thousands at peril, come across as cold. The extended shot on the British people is meant to reflect Churchill’s powerful emotions towards his people, proven by his constant stare out the window. His contemplation of the status of the people is reflected by the time he views them from his car. Since thoughts cannot be filmed, they are implied through action.

These shots, while effective in what they wish to accomplish, are two examples of shots that end up beating a dead horse. The point has been made, so now move along. Yet the movie doesn’t, choosing to instead linger on the British people for an extra 10 or 20 seconds. While 10 to 20 seconds may not sound like anything to squabble over, these two shots are not the only ones that make “The Darkest Hour” drag along. They riddle the film with extended periods of dead space — unneeded time not beneficial to the plot or main characters. These shots of “dead space” clog the motion of plot, which makes the movie feel long. Relatively speaking, “The Darkest Hour” is not extremely long; two hours and five minutes rings off as a watchable length. The clogging effect that the “dead space” shots plague on the plot, drag what could be a shorter movie onto an unfair length. The story that wished to be told could have been done much more economically, had the long overdrawn shots been trimmed, expediting the journey to resolution.

Despite the dragging sensation, “The Darkest Hour” truly is one of 2017’s best films. Gary Oldman expertly tackles the challenge of playing such a prominent and decisive figure from recent history. Oldman may stand out as the film’s gem, yet the film is not shy of other merits. It also boasts impressive cosmetics (Oldman’s makeup proves such) and an enjoyable script as illuminated in Churchill’s sense of humor. Whether you watch this because it’s Oscar-nominated or because you wish for a historical drama, “The Darkest Hour” will prove to be an engrossing capture of Britain’s WWII political turmoil.

 

Written by: Nicolas Rago — arts@theaggie.org

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