Quick Hit: A wonderful performance by Oldman goes a bit unheralded in this biopic.
Gary Oldman is one of those actors that appear in everything, and yet somehow no one really even knows about him. He’s Sirius Black, he’s Mason Verger, he’s the human compound’s commander in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, he’s Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. And the reason you never know he’s there is because he falls into the roles he’s given like a chameleon in the trees. In that respect, Darkest Hour is no different. Winston Churchill was known for his oratory ability, and Oldman sells this, and sells it hard.
Hidden beneath prosthetics and makeup, Oldman lands Churchill’s way of speaking, including the trademark lisp and mumbles. Much of the movie focuses on Oldman speaking, walking, and interacting just like Churchill, and in those senses the movie is a rousing success. The best historical portrayals land somewhere between direct imitation and creation, and Oldman recreates Churchill in his best and worst of moments. He also portrays a genuine emotional battle that takes place throughout the movie, as Churchill struggles with the decisions he has to make for the greater good.
I’d also like to point out the striking physical similarity between Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind) and King George VI. King George was another famous Briton with a speech impediment, who notoriously struggled with stuttering. Mendelsohn not only looks the part, but he lands the distinctive voice cues and verbal struggle in the same way as Oldman. Just don’t think he gets enough credit for his admittedly small role in this film, particularly for one emotionally wrought scene in Churchill’s home.
What’s unfortunate about Darkest Hour is just about everything that doesn’t include these two. There’s a lot that’s being discussed here – the war, the inner workings of the British government, the willingness of the government to lie to the people when it believes it suits the people. This is tossed together in a manner that each time Oldman is given a chance to leave the screen, the film suffers. There’s just not enough glue there to hold the story together without a truly magnetic performance.
It’s really odd, I’ve never seen so many Best Picture nominations work together so well. Both Darkest Hour and Dunkirk deal with the British evacuation of Dunkirk beach. One is focused on the activities at home, the other on the beach. As well as Dunkirk, The Post works as a pretty good companion piece here. Both deal with governments keeping from the governed certain military defeats that would sway public opinion in a certain way. All these seem politically motivated in today’s Trumpian climate.
The film itself is average, but the performance is amazing. That leads to a barely above average score in a “C+” from me.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"