One Shot #2: Darkest Hour

Though I had an overall so-so opinion of Joe Wright’s 2017 Winston Churchill biopic, one aspect of the film stood out to me just as much as Gary Oldman’s spellbinding lead performance – and that’s Bruno Delbonnel’s brilliant cinematography.

And part of the reason is this one shot, right here:

dh

Even if you haven’t seen the film or know nothing about Winston Churchill’s tenure as the British Prime Minister during the chaos of WWII, this image tells the story. The entire sequence is evocative – as many sequences throughout the film are, thanks to effective lighting techniques and superb directing – but this one shot perfectly encapsulates the way Churchill is portrayed this movie. He is a man alone, and restricted, facing a terrifying, unknown darkness. But there is a single light – he can’t clearly see the path, but continues to forge ahead.

In the film, Churchill faces an endless onslaught of doubt and opposition – much of it justified, due to his somewhat checkered track record – as he leads the nation against the ever increasing threat of the Axis powers. And though it’s a position of prominence, he is still effectively in a cage. Bound by law, bound by those who fear him and those who loathe him, bound by indecision, bound by the threat of being deposed. He grapples with what to do in the face of the Dunkirk evacuation, and how to handle a nation – and a world – at war. Asserting you cannot reason with a tiger while your head is in its mouth.

This is what that still means – this is a man with his head in a tiger’s mouth. Alone, restricted, and facing the unknown.

Any suggestions for more films/shots, message me!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

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Best Picture Countdown #8: Darkest Hour

“Nations which go down fighting rise again, and those that surrender tamely are finished.” – Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour (2017)

Dir. Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr 5min

Darkest Hour is an exploration into the life of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Oldman) during the tension-filled and controversial first few weeks of his tenure, as he takes office with the threat of Germany and the Axis Powers staring down Britain’s thought-impenetrable shores. As World War II rages on, Churchill faces opposition within his own country and outside of it.

dhYou cannot talk about how great this film is without first mentioning Gary Oldman’s performance as the notable British icon. He is the pounding heart of this film, providing the right amount of bluster, confidence, vulnerability, and cantankerousness, delivering Churchill’s famous speeches – most notably, his “Never surrender!” one – with aplomb. There are moments where his outbursts make you laugh, some where you shake your head in disbelief, and others where you might feel the urge to nod sagely in agreement. For his transformation, I’m fully expecting Gary Oldman to win Best Actor – and, truthfully, he 1000% deserves it. I’m stunned he hasn’t won an Oscar before – the man’s a chameleon and immensely talented. But, I’ll admit… he’s not my favorite to win; I’ve got one name ranked above him, though the race is very close. But if his name is read out on Oscar night, I’ll still be clapping ardently from my couch.

This film features brilliant performances – not just from Oldman, but the supporting cast as well – and is compelling from start to finish. It’s a visual treat with memorable dialogue and a score that has been unjustly underrated all awards season. I would have ranked this film above the other WWII-centered film nominated for Best Picture, but in reading up on both films since my initial viewings, Darkest Hour lost the edge for the historical inaccuracies. I understand the need for artistic liberties in historical films because no one can take history and transplant it directly onto the screen in 100% truth, but it’s a case-by-case basis; Imitation Game is one example of a movie that I soured on after reading up on the actual events, but I don’t mind the fictions in Saving Private Ryan one bit. Again, this is ALL personal preference. Playing with real events is tough, and Darkest Hour largely does a great job of showing both positives and negatives of such a critical time in history and it presents a mostly balanced narrative, but when the fiction outweighs history – the subway scene in this film is entirely fictional, for example – then my personal admiration starts to wane. If you’re interested in reading more on the fact vs. the fiction of this film, check out this article from the Slate: HERE!

That said, this is a gorgeous film to look at. I’m actually pulling for it to win the close race for Best Cinematography. There is a scene in this film where Churchill is alone in an elevator, surrounding by empty space, and it might be the most brilliant and symbolic sequence I’ve seen all year. Absolutely phenomenal. It’s an underdog in that contest, but I’d love to see Bruno Delbonnel take it. As far as the other awards go, Darkest Hour is a shoo-in for Makeup and Hairstyling, and rightfully so, considering Oldman’s physical transformation. His performance wouldn’t have been the same without that team turning him into Churchill. When it comes to Costume and Production Design, however, I doubt Darkest Hour will rise above the competition.

Though this film is not likely to take home the gold for Best Picture, Darkest Hour might be Oldman’s finest. If you’re a fan of war films, it’s worth seeing just for his performance and the cinematography alone.

Oscar Nominations
Best Actor (Oldman)
Best Cinematography
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Best Picture

For my full review of Darkest Hour from earlier this year, click HERE.

Film Review: Darkest Hour (2017)

Dir. Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr 5min
Spoiler level: Minor

The moment I saw a screenshot of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill some months ago, I knew I was going to see this movie. I had to travel an hour away to do it (drawbacks of small-town living) but Oldman’s Golden Globe win last Sunday solidified that his turn in Darkest Hour was a performance I didn’t want to miss on the big screen. Also, The Shape of Water isn’t playing within 50 miles of me, so…

dhFollowing Winston Churchill (Oldman) as he takes the mantle of Prime Minister in May 1940 with World War II brewing ominously on the mainland, Darkest Hour offers insight (both in public and behind closed doors) into Churchill’s first tenuous/strenuous days in office as he faces opposition and doubt from his fellow party members, the crown, and himself.

First things first; the cast is superb. Kristin Scott Thomas is great as Clementine Churchill, as she conveys the inner and outer struggle of a wife and her efforts to support her husband as he endures such intense scrutiny. Ben Mendelsohn (who I didn’t even recognize, a total fail on my part) does an excellent job expressing the turmoil of King George VI, who grapples with his opinion of Churchill and what is best for the nation as a whole as it faces the possibility of invasion. Lily James turns in a nuanced performance as Churchill’s personal secretary, Elizabeth Layton, and Stannis Baratheon Stephen Dillane’s determined and frustrated Halifax stands toe to toe with Oldman’s Churchill as he argues for appeasement over war. But obviously, the film is carried by Oldman, who delivers Churchill’s famous speeches with passion and fire, but also shows vulnerability as he is assailed by doubt and criticism from all sides, not to mention the looming war with the Axis Powers on the horizon. He plays off of the other key characters with aplomb, as the chemistry Oldman shares with Scott Thomas, while only shown in a few scenes, is an inspiring look into the strengths and strains of an enduring marriage, while Oldman’s scenes with Mendelsohn evolve over the course of the film as their interactions go from tension-riddled and uncertain to tempered hostility to grudging respect and beyond. Hearing the “We shall fight them on the beaches,” speech coming from Oldman is electrifying, as his words build in intensity and fervor and serve as a contrast to those poignant flickers of uncertainty and wavering confidence he suffers while debating whether or not to enter peace negotiations with the monster threatening to invade and conquer.

One of the film’s main strengths is that it isn’t a wide-spanning look at Churchill’s life and career, sprawling over the course of several years; it’s a snapshot centered on Churchill’s earliest days in office, which encompasses only a few weeks and culminates in the evacuation at Dunkirk. This lends the film a greater sense of focus and a deeper look into Churchill’s mindset and emotional state, and permits a greater exploration into the opinions of those around him, particularly Halifax and Chamberlain. It doesn’t seek to show Churchill’s entire legacy in two hours, and the result is a more intimate film with a greater focus on the gravity of his decisions and their possible consequences, rather than a blustering epic about his greatness with no time to breathe in-between scenes. The pacing is a bit dodgy at times, but the film also strives to show the criticism that Churchill faced during his tenure and references some of his more controversial actions, including the Gallipoli Campaign, which provides a somewhat more “balanced” portrayal of the historical icon, rather than a 2-hour lovefest.

Darkest Hour also shines on a technical level, as the cinematography, lighting, sound (including Dario Marianelli’s score) and direction are stellar, and all components function together to make a visually (and audibly) beautiful film. Certain shots and sequences are framed and shot in such a evocative, visceral way, it gives even more weight to whatever is happening onscreen at the time. Lots of great “hallway” shots and tracking shots, and one particular shot of Churchill in an elevator shows the perfect image of a man who feels utterly “alone” not only physically, but in his convictions. Plus, I’d be shocked if Tsuji and team don’t win the Oscar for Makeup and Hairstyling (Sorry, Beauty & The Beast), as Gary Oldman’s galvanizing performance is enhanced by the amazing physical transformation he undergoes to become one of the most well-known and revered figures in British history.

One of Darkest Hour‘s taglines is also one of Churchill’s most famous phrases, “Never surrender.” And though those famous words have been heard countless times, and WWII has been depicted repeatedly on screens of all sizes, Darkest Hour is a semi-unconventional “war” film that brings something fresh and new to the table in offering a closer look into Winston Churchill’s life and legacy, his personal and professional relationships, and his unwillingness to give in, even when facing such grave odds and innumerable doubts.

P.S. I might suggest this film and Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film Dunkirk as a double feature, though viewing both films back-to-back could be pretty draining… though you could start off with Tom Hooper’s 2010 Oscar-winner The King’s Speech, for a bit of levity.