‘Darkest Hour’ is this year’s answer to ‘Hacksaw Ridge’: an anti-intellectual Best Picture nominee
Hacksaw Ridge was easily one of the worst films of 2016, and its inclusion in the Best Picture lineup alongside Moonlight, Arrival and La La Land was an insult to the achievements of those films. No ‘serious film’ this really has really come close to the pure awfulness of Mel Gibson’s war drama in my estimation, but I’ve certainly got a lot of animosity toward Darkest Hour, a poorly executed and generally ill-conceived movie about how Winston Churchill was a great, great guy who may or may not have committed genocide in Afghanistan, ordered the slaughter of Greek protestors, illegally taxed the Iranian government, ordered mass bombings in Iraq, removed Kenyan natives from their land, arrested Scottish strikers, conceived of the Black and Tans etc, etc.
And it’s not just the treatment of Churchill: the whole project (even when it attempts to distract with token diverse faces) has a strong odour of post-Brexit British nationalism that Dunkirk managed to expertly avoid while maintaining a solid and agreeable “Let’s Defeat Hitler” sentiment. I haven’t been so uncomfortable with the tone of a war movie since, well, Hacksaw Ridge!
But aside from all of that, Darkest Hour is just really really bad. The script is basically nothing: just a series of pre-existing speeches strung together. The most original sequence in the entire film is the much-maligned Underground Scene, where Winston takes the tube to Westminster and meets a delightfully diverse group (including A Black, An Irish, A Disabled etc.) who inspire him to stand up for the value of democracy. It’s, no joke, vomit-inducing. Even the English film critics agree; this isn’t just me being a dick.
Now, Gary Oldman. I don’t think Gary Oldman is all that great on a good day — he’s solid in The Dark Knight but that’s ’cause it’s the Dark Knight — but wow is he poor in Darkest Hour. I’ve been doing an impersonation of his Churchill impersonation for a few weeks, and it’s reached a point where people are telling me it’s actually more convincing than what Oldman is about to win an Oscar for. “Oh, but it’s such a transformative performance”. Pffft. The makeup is absurd, and it hasn’t even been applied consistently. He looks different from scene to scene.
And Oldman, y’know, Gary Oldman isn’t a particularly woke dude. He’s got domestic violence accusations in his past, he’s on the record defending Mel Gibson — yeah, him again — and he used his Golden Globes speech to thank Churchill, who — let’s not forget — is the absolute idol of President Trump, and was hardly a great symbol of the woman’s liberation the Globes were all about this year. Case in point: Oldman actively chose not to participate in the moment. Then there’s the matter that he just isn’t the best choice for Best Actor by any account. Timothée Chalamet is pretty extraordinary in the final 4 minutes of Call Me By Your Name alone, nevermind the brilliant first 2 hours. This should be his year. No year should be Darkest Hour’s year.