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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

"Darkest Hour" 2017. Good But Not Great

"Darkest Hour" 2017 is a good movie. I enjoyed it and I'm glad I saw it. I don't understand, though, the rapturous reviews it has received. For me it never transcended from "good" to "great." "Darkest Hour" is about noble Brits behaving heroically during World War II. It's the third movie in 2017 to feature the Dunkirk evacuation. It's one of a few films in which major stars have donned prostheses to depict Winston Churchill. In other words, there's nothing new here.

Gary Oldman does a good job, but I was never able to overcome my fixation on his superb prostheses and focus on the person beneath the makeup. I think he should have done it without all that makeup so we could focus on the person, not the cosmetician's skill.

The folksy, comic, and tear-jerking scenes between Churchill and his typist, played by Lily James, struck me as manipulative and a tad maudlin. James does nothing for me as an actress and for me she brought nothing but her young and pretty face to the film.

Interspersed with quirky Winston, close-up-and-personal, are the politics, and the horrors, of war. Neville Chamberlin and Viscount Halifax push Churchill to reach a truce with Hitler, rather than enter into an unwinnable war.

Churchill, pathetically and unsuccessfully, phones Roosevelt to beg for help. Roosevelt turns Churchill down. There were reasons Americans were slow to go to war in WW II. Main reason: the recent, pointless carnage of WW I, which was, of course, Europe's, not America's, war. Americans had been told just twenty years earlier, that they were fighting "the war to end all wars." Roosevelt, behind the scenes, was quietly preparing the US for inevitable war, and helping his future Allies as best he could. The phone call scene struck me as petty America-bashing.

In a couple of scenes, Director Joe Wright brings the cost of war home to the viewer. In one scene, the camera is inside a field hospital with soldiers injured during the controversial Siege of Calais. The camera pans upward to plane height. A bomb is dropped. All those soldiers we had come to care about, we assume, were just killed. In another scene, a battlefield is shown from high above. It looks almost like a map. As the camera pans, we see the face of a victim of war. It's very powerful. 

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