Darkest Hour

TJR review

The “Darkest Hour” is a WWII film about the rise of Winston Churchill set just before Britain was pushed out of France by the Germans at Dunkirk (don’t worry, we won WWII). It was nominated for 74 awards and won 24. British actor Gary Oldman did his finest job playing Churchill, and won four best actor awards, including the Oscar. (He also excellently played a depraved Detroit dope dealer in “True Romance.”)

Prime minister Neville Chamberlain has just been dumped for “appeasing” Hitler, whose Wehrmacht has already swept across Europe. After much political maneuvering, Churchill takes power, but he is undermined in his effort to fight Germany by Chamberlain and cohorts. They challenged his leadership based on his WWI record (Gallipoli) and his uncouth nature; for example, he drinks a bottle of champagne at lunch and most of a bottle of scotch every night.

This is a big historical movie that feels important like “Patton.” Historical purists gripe about the subway scene, and the always wrong Slant Magazine (total score -99, the worst score of any publication) deems the movie “fiction” because it portrays Britain as choosing to engage with Germany vs. being forced to do so.

This was my favorite movie of 2018 and an unintended prequel to the movie “Dunkirk,” one of my top 5 movies in 2017.

Mick LaSalle 100/100 (the only good reviewer (+16) at the S. F. Chronicle, total score -15)

Across the veil of years, we have seen tall Churchills, obese Churchills, sloppy Churchills, gross Churchills and scowling bull dog Churchills, and yet not one movie or TV Churchill has come close to giving us the man in full, both in look and spirit, until Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour.

Roger Moore 88/100 (one of my top 5 reviewers, score +10)

Thanks to Oldman’s unerring portrayal of a deeply flawed man rising to face a crisis, and inspiring a nation to rise with him, it’s an equally worthy reminder that there have been bad times before today’s, and that people, great and small, saw them through.

James Berardinelli 75/100 (one of my top 5 reviewers, score +23)

Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill is among the best to reach the screen. With the help of makeup, Oldman immerses himself so deeply in the role that the actor disappears.

Jake Cole 38/100 (another no name loser of the 50+ reviewers I’ve tracked at Slant Magazine)

The film reinforces only the most simplistic and patriotic vision of Churchill, its closed-off view of the man reminiscent of the many tracking shots that wind through the underground tunnels of the U.K.‘s war command, constantly peeking into rooms with classified meetings as doors are abruptly closed to keep them secret.

Steve Davis 50/100 (one of the all bad reviewers of The Austin Chronicle, led by their biggest loser, Mark Sandlow, -12)

A nagging question persists throughout Darkest Hour: Is Oldman’s compulsively meticulous turn here anything more than a brilliant impersonation? The answer is yes, but it’s a performance that always stands apart from the rest of the film.