Darkest Hour reviews

Mister Tee
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Re: Darkest Hour reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Dec 08, 2017 9:10 pm

I OFTEN READ OTHER PEOPLE'S POSTINGS BEFORE WRITING MY OWN REVIEW, BUT THIS TIME I DECIDED TO GO AHEAD WITH MINE AND LOOK AT OTHERS' AFTER, TO SEE IF WE'RE IN SYNC

I needed a palate cleanser after so many good movies in a row, so I went to Darkest Hour today. (KIdding: it just fit my schedule best.)

From the first shot -- the overhead in the House of Commons -- I had the bad reminder that this was Joe Wright, the guy who perfectly fits Damien's favored phrase "Look at me, I'm directing". I thought Damien over-used the phrase, seeming to have issues with anyone who had a flamboyant style (like, say, del Toro in Shape of Water or Innaritu in Birdman). But Wright to me is the perfect case, because his attention-grabbing shots -- the Bennet sisters flying from room to room in Pride and Prejudice, the nurses marching like they're about to launch a Busby Berkeley number in Atonement -- never seem to have any connection to the content; they seem to exist to be doing SOMETHING DIFFERENT, without any thought why. (I'll except Anna Karenina from this overall critique; that at least seemed all of a piece, and may be his most interestingly conceived film.) Here in Darkest Hour we have multiple overhead views, a bunch of tracking shots, and weird closeups (like the human eye apparently meant to represent the dead at Calais), none of which serve any dramatic purpose; they seem to be there because Wright got bored with the story.

Not that the story deserves much better. This is an extremely simplistic view of the politics of the early months of the war, with strawman peaceniks offering lame, defeatist arguments before finally being crushed before the steamroller bluster of Churchill. Granted history's vindication of Churchill's approach would have made any opposition seem limp, but surely someone could have better articulated the possible advantages of anything beyond Go-Fight-Win -- something like diplomacy? (I had the weird feeling that Trump folk will watch this movie thinking Obama with his professorial ways is the Chamberlain/Halifax wing, and only the Trump/Churchillian bluster-and-bulldoze approach wins. They could probably use it to defend Trump's lunacy on Jerusalem.) And there's really not much else to watch in this over-familiar bit of history...very little wit beyond the opening scenes, and certainly no suspense, as we know the results of both the House speech and the Dunkirk evacuation.

All of this might have been just flat and uninspired, except, near the end, the screenwriter threw in what I'd label the most appallingly cloying scene I've sat through in a movie this year: that atrocity in the underground, where everyone -- it's unanimous -- tells Churchill exactly what he wants/needs to hear. (If any of you read Tom Friedman's columns in the NY Times, he always finds a cab driver wherever he goes to perform the same courtesy.) This scene, bad as it is, manages to hit a high-note of hackdom by having the sole black passenger -- bussed in from central casting, it appears -- not only say the most important things, but complete the lines of poetry Churchill is quoting. After this scene, I actively disliked the film.

Anyone talking about supporting nominations for this film is being ridiculous. Mendehslon has the best-by-default scene ("You have my support"), but he doesn't have remotely the heft of half a dozen other candidates. And Kristen Scott Thomas does her job capably, but doesn't have much of a role. As for the performance I'm supposed to want to see win best actor...I honestly have very little reaction to it. Oldman reads the speeches well, and he does the cantankerous thing smoothly enough. But I never had a moment when I thought I was seeing into the man's inner being -- something I had frequently during Lithgow's characterization of him in The Crown.

Come to think of it, nearly any random episode of The Crown was a more interesting and moving look into 20th century British history. I obviously can't pretend I had very high hopes for this film, but it actually managed to fall short of them.

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Re: Darkest Hour reviews

Postby Sabin » Mon Dec 04, 2017 10:20 pm

There are many reasons why 'Darkest Hour' didn't work for me. Anthony McCarten is a dull writer. Joe Wright is a broad director. Can we please get him a superhero film? Winston Churchill isn't a compelling subject. But maybe I'm just not in the mood to watch a film about a blustery authoritarian right now, banging the drums of war in a room full of cowards. The narrative of the film is the simplest. Winston Churchill is made PM. Everyone wants him to enter into peace talks with Hitler. Will he hold to his convictions? That's it. There are no new insights. Unless of course, one is to believe in the slightest that Churchill, a hair's breadth from buckling, found the courage to persevere from a subway full of commoners. I'm no big fan of The King's Speech, but it at least benefited from a story we hadn't heard before. Lincoln suffered a bit from a tinge of inevitability but benefited immeasurably from a vibrancy and new insight with which mid-19th century politics were brought to life. Darkest Hour benefits from neither. It definitely comes from The Theory of Everything school of Wiki-Screenwriting in that it's so overwritten you can practically see the notecards hanging off of every scene. Just like in The Theory of Everything, it's pretty remarkable how little feel at the end of the film.

Joe Wright gives it some flash but he seems bored, and often falls back on cute framing.

As for Gary Oldman...well, he's fine and good. Yes, this is a performance that relies heavily on makeup, but it's totally integrated into his performance. I could never in good faith support such a performance winning an Oscar, but this film is basically a one-man show and he deserves some credit considering that he's basically spouting speeches and exposition for over two hours and keeps it watchable.

Nothing worth waving a handkerchief over.
Last edited by Sabin on Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Darkest Hour reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Oct 06, 2017 7:36 pm

I think Oldman probably sweeps the tv prizes, though I do hope the critics' groups go for some more left-field choices. The period piece tech nominations are very possible. But I have a pretty hard time imagining either the directors or writers going for this, making Best Picture iffy. But it's still possible -- the traditionalists in the Academy usually get at least something on to the Best Picture slate.

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Re: Darkest Hour reviews

Postby Sabin » Fri Oct 06, 2017 3:47 pm

The Original BJ wrote
I don't often like to use the term Oscar-bait as a pejorative, because so many now just use it to describe any mainstream movie with aspirations to seriousness, but this struck me as the kind of movie that really has no point but to win people trophies.

Sounds as dreadful as the trailer promises. I’d like to think these films are going out of fashion, but a film like ‘The Imitation Game’ can still get a directing nomination over the likes of Clint Eastwood.

How do you think it will do?
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Re: Darkest Hour reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Oct 06, 2017 3:09 pm

Thanks for confirming all my worst fears.

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Re: Darkest Hour reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Oct 06, 2017 12:46 am

Given that Focus Features was behind so many exciting films during my years of budding cinephilia, it's a bit discouraging to now see the studio so reliant on old fogey movies like Victoria & Abdul and Darkest Hour. (In a sense, they're repeating the Miramax narrative two decades later.)

Anyway, I found Darkest Hour -- doesn't it feel like that title is missing an article in front of it? -- to be a complete snooze. This is a totally musty history lesson, with a script that's lacking in a good number of areas. For starters, I thought the dialogue was pretty ho-hum, with a lot of lines that feel written to be "clever" but aren't actually witty or insightful about anything ("Would you stop interrupting me while I am interrupting you!") There aren't all that many characters, but many of them -- especially Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas's characters -- remain utter blanks. (Ben Mendelsohn's King George, though clearly in the shadow of Colin Firth, is maybe the exception). And as far as narrative goes, I found this pretty thin -- I'm hardly a Churchill scholar, and even I was familiar with all of the most significant plot points. This is kind of an issue for a movie whose approach to history basically seems to be "here's what happened."

Oddly, the timing of this movie's release next to Dunkirk might actually make it come off better, not because it's a superior movie to Christopher Nolan's (it's definitely not), but because we all now have such a strong visual/historical reference point for the evacuation of Dunkirk, it's easier to place this film's take on the event from a different angle within context. (In some respects, this whole movie is like the fourth story thread of Dunkirk.)

I was a bit surprised by how subdued Joe Wright's work is here. In the Keira Knightley trilogy, not all of his attempts at theatricality worked, but at least those movies didn't feel like the same-old-same-old period piece. Aside from an over-reliance on overhead shots, there isn't nearly as much in the way of visual imagination in Darkest Hour (beyond a generally well-lit, well-mounted production).

This is a tiny thing, but it jumped out at me in a handful of scenes -- the direction of the extras/day-players is way off. A lot of the crowd scenes had me feeling like I was watching actors really trying to get their moment in, rather than realistic crowd dynamics. (The subway sequence is particularly ridiculous.)

As for the movie's most praised element, I'm sorry to say that Gary Oldman's work, though not without solid moments, fell too much on the hamola side for me. I was just constantly aware of the effort involved in every scene -- there's so much shouting, dramatic moving of furniture, and lumbering around, it was hard for me to really be impressed by this transformation because it always felt like a performance. And I realize that Churchill actually spoke this way, but there were a decent number of lines of dialogue I just didn't catch because of all the mumbling.

I don't often like to use the term Oscar-bait as a pejorative, because so many now just use it to describe any mainstream movie with aspirations to seriousness, but this struck me as the kind of movie that really has no point but to win people trophies.

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Re: Darkest Hour reviews

Postby Precious Doll » Mon Sep 11, 2017 5:04 am

I know film industry worldwide has been making them since the beginning of cinema but I'm sick of biopics. Well, all the bad ones anyway.
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Re: Darkest Hour reviews

Postby Okri » Sun Sep 10, 2017 7:13 pm

Of course, the worry should be that if Oldman loses like Nolan/The Dark Knight , they change the rules and have a category just for biopic performances - Best Performance by an Actor in an Adapted Leading Role...

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Re: Darkest Hour reviews

Postby Reza » Sun Sep 10, 2017 6:05 pm

Mister Tee wrote:I know I have no claim to being objective about this film, but the reactions I've read online -- especially from the bloggers -- remind me of nothing so much as trained seals, grasping for their meal. People went in saying "Oscar for Oldman", and they came out saying it; what they saw in the interim was close to irrelevant. Sasha Stone essentially rewrote her Theory of Everything review (SPOILER: Oldman BECOMES Churchill!). All these people, who spend 90% of their time moaning about Oscar bait and movies about old white people, are now cheering on primo Oscar bait about old white people.

I said about Eddie Redmayne's Oscar that he won it the day he was cast; should Oldman win, I think the same would be true, and not insignificantly because of the part bloggers have come to play, designating front-runners before a film is even shot, let alone viewed. (Someone at AwardsWatch wrote "Of course; hes been the front-runner all along" -- in the tradition of Unbroken, right?) I have far greater admiration for Oldman and his career than I did for Redmayne, but I so hate this "pre-established narrative trumps achievement" thing that has ruined the Oscars (not to mention the "celebrity impression = great acting" trend) that, in the same way Okri roots for Nolan to fall short in directing once again, I'd be happy to see this film fail in its quest.

However...no questioning Oldman has advantages at this point, though I think a truly dynamic Denzel Washington performance, coupled with his perceived narrow loss last year, would make for strong competition.


Do you really think they will give Denzel a third? It's Churchill after all.

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Re: Darkest Hour reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 02, 2017 12:12 pm

I know I have no claim to being objective about this film, but the reactions I've read online -- especially from the bloggers -- remind me of nothing so much as trained seals, grasping for their meal. People went in saying "Oscar for Oldman", and they came out saying it; what they saw in the interim was close to irrelevant. Sasha Stone essentially rewrote her Theory of Everything review (SPOILER: Oldman BECOMES Churchill!). All these people, who spend 90% of their time moaning about Oscar bait and movies about old white people, are now cheering on primo Oscar bait about old white people.

I said about Eddie Redmayne's Oscar that he won it the day he was cast; should Oldman win, I think the same would be true, and not insignificantly because of the part bloggers have come to play, designating front-runners before a film is even shot, let alone viewed. (Someone at AwardsWatch wrote "Of course; hes been the front-runner all along" -- in the tradition of Unbroken, right?) I have far greater admiration for Oldman and his career than I did for Redmayne, but I so hate this "pre-established narrative trumps achievement" thing that has ruined the Oscars (not to mention the "celebrity impression = great acting" trend) that, in the same way Okri roots for Nolan to fall short in directing once again, I'd be happy to see this film fail in its quest.

However...no questioning Oldman has advantages at this point, though I think a truly dynamic Denzel Washington performance, coupled with his perceived narrow loss last year, would make for strong competition.

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Re: Darkest Hour reviews

Postby Precious Doll » Sat Sep 02, 2017 3:55 am

Variety: http://variety.com/2017/film/in-content ... 202545664/

The Wrap: http://www.thewrap.com/darkest-hour-rev ... churchill/

Both rave about Gary Oldman. I'd be happy with Oldman winning if only because he deserved back to back Oscars for Sid & Nancy and Prick Up Your Ears over 30 years ago and is one of the more reliable and constantly good actors around, despite this film having zero appeal to me personally.
"I have no interest in all of that. I find that all tabloid stupidity" Woody Allen, The Guardian, 2014, in response to his adopted daughter's allegations.

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Darkest Hour reviews

Postby Precious Doll » Sat Sep 02, 2017 3:49 am

Postive review from THP: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review ... ew-1034823

All the good reviews in the world for this doesn't entice me one bit to see the film.
"I have no interest in all of that. I find that all tabloid stupidity" Woody Allen, The Guardian, 2014, in response to his adopted daughter's allegations.


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