2 1/2 (out of 4)
If the Academy Award for Best Actor were chosen by merit alone Timothée Chalamat would be a sliver more deserving for his breakout starring role in Call Me By Your Name than the intimidating Gary Oldman. But there’s more riding on Oldman’s unbeatable streak of acting trophies than just his extraordinary work as Winston Churchill in the otherwise merely standard British biopic Darkest Hour.
Though my eyes and ears have yet to be graced with Pan, Joe Wright’s filmography, and my knowledge of it, has been spotty. Pride and Prejudice and Hanna are unequivocally good films, whereas The Soloist and even Atonement are well-crafted yet unworthy of emotional investment. Darkest Hour is somewhere in between, treading humdrum quality often and a few times grazing the borders of greatness thanks to Oldman’s tremendous conviction and the cinematic subtleties of Bruno Delbonnel’s startlingly beautiful lighting and cinematography.
The DP behind the atmospheric heights of the Harry Potter series in Half-Blood Prince and in the Coen's late-career classic Inside Llewyn Davis certainly elevates several wonderful moments of Darkest Hour. Churchill’s first address to the nation over radio, as well as the movie’s most sentimental scene – wherein Churchill rides the subway for the first time in his life and discusses Britain’s difficult wartime position with average citizens – are powerful and elegantly composed.
The formulaic script yearns for slightly less Hollywood dialogue, more prominence for its female characters (Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas are all but unessential), and greater scope to the story. Given the destruction of war that lies on the horizon by the end of this film's month-long narrative in May 1940, can you really even call this Britain's darkest hour?
This and Dunkirk are like two peas in a pod, the most current Armageddon/Deep Impact year we've had. Wright's film is more traditionally satisfying than Dunkirk, yet half the film in importance. No matter how individually flawed, at least Christopher Nolan’s vision of history is for real – Darkest Hour is mostly history for show.
To keep it brief...