Every few years, two studios come up with similar ideas that go into production at nearly identical times. A notable example is 1997 which saw the release of Dante's Peak and Volcano, two volcano-inspired movies. The year after saw two asteroid-inspired flicks with Armageddon and Deep Impact. 2017 is another year to add to this trope of two studios producing similar productions. Darkest Hour takes place around the events leading up to the evacuation of Dunkirk which the self-titled film Dunkirk also made an attempt at telling as well. The difference between those film above doing similar productions and the Dunkirk-inspired films of 2017 is the fact that both Darkest Hour and Dunkirk are up for Academy Awards this season.
Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldman, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, and Ben Mendelsohn. With Europe beginning to see the full invasion strength of Hitler in the early stages of World War II, England is facing a ton of backlash from its citizens as well as its politicians for not being properly equipped to handle the impending invasion. After a vote of no-confidence on British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for being too weak, the government is appointed to Winston Churchill to help mend the government together in preparation for war. Once Churchill realizes the dire state that the country is in, he must face the doubts of leading this country within his war council and himself in order to keep England from falling into the hands of Hitler and his Nazi regime.
The first takeaway from Darkest Hour is of course the transformation of Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill. The first thing to take into consideration is the massive physical transformation Oldman undertook to become Churchill on screen. While many might be fooled that Oldman put on a ton of weight for the role, the truth is that all of the fat and weight that is on Oldman in the production is done with incredible makeup work. With many actors gaining and losing weight for roles, Oldman knew he was too old to drastically put on weight for the role. Instead, a team of make-up artist went to work and help molded Gary Oldman into Churchill and the results are some of the most make-up that has been seen on film.
Not only does Gary Oldman look the part of Churchill but the man literally becomes him with his performance. Oldman gives the character such dedications with an incredible focus on the way he talks, moves, and interacts with people within the film. Oldman is completely mesmerizing and the he steals every scene he's in. Sadly, nobody else in this film comes to the plate in terms of raising the bar to balance Oldman's incredible performance. Everyone else in the film just seems to be floating in and out of the film both narratively and actively. It is almost like everyone knew going into production that the goal of this film was to give Oldman a chance to shine and that no one is allowed to divert that spotlight from him. Stronger performances from the supporting cast may have elevate Oldman even more or at least given the material a sense of merit.
Darkest Hour's plot can be complicated to follow sometimes. With all of the political moves in the background and the state of the country leading into the film, audience members who are unaware of the situation might find themselves lost. It also doesn't help that some characters in the film have agendas that they're trying to achieve but those goals are never explained or never given clear focus for the audience to understand where they are coming from. While the details in the story can be convoluted, you can still grasp the general idea of what Churchill and the country are going through and can relate to the struggles that they face.
While the film lacks a completely cohesive story or a visual aesthetic that one would expect from a major Oscar contender, the film succeeds and only on the merits of Gary Oldman's performance. Without Oldman in this role that will most certainly win him an Oscar in the coming weeks, this film could be in contention for a direct-to-dvd release that very few would get a chance to see. Darkest Hour is not a bad film but the only reason we're discussing this film right now is because of Gary Oldman. Now I completely agree with Oldman's nomination and support his efforts in winning the award later on this year, I completely do not support a majority of the other nominations this film picked up. Darkest Hour has no business being nominated for Best Picture this year. Films like Crown Heights, Logan, Wonder Woman, and even The Big Sick were much deserving of this nomination. If you're interested in learning more about the events of Dunkirk, I suggest you take your time and watch Dunkirk first. That film has much more entertainment value and gives a better understanding about how hopeless the situation was in France. If you find yourself wanting more, then I can suggest taking a chance on Darkest Hour.