The Darkest Hour Blu-ray Review
Somewhere out there, a creative cinephile has somehow combined Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK and Joe Wright’s DARKEST HOUR into one cohesive film. While Nolan’s film took viewers to land, sea and air when it comes to Operation Dynamo, also known as the evacuation of Dunkirk, Wright took us behind the scenes. Both stand on their own two feet as cinematic tour de forces, but if you combined them, you might actually end up with a masterpiece that covers every base. But I digress…
DARKEST HOUR centers on Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), who’s named Prime Minister of England in the beginning moments of the film. It comes after several failures by Neville Chamberlain, as Nazi forces swiftly make their way across the European continent. Despite the respect Churchill commands, he makes several enemies with his unorthodox approach to leadership. However, that quick wit and sharp tongue brings him unlikely allies in the form of King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) and his personal secretary, Elizabeth Layton (James).
At times DARKEST HOUR is narratively confusing, but not in the way that DUNKIRK was. The geopolitical shifting can be overwhelming and the white lettering on screen, giving us specific dates, doesn’t necessarily help keep everything in line. But we all know it’s building towards something because anyone who’s graduated high school knows the end result of WWII. The interesting aspects of DARKEST HOUR comes in the form of drama between Churchill’s growing list of both enemies and allies as he tries to diplomatically outmaneuver Adolf Hitler.
Those tidbits, like the potential for a ceasefire as Hitler’s grasp closes in on tens of thousands of British soldiers on French beaches; keep DARKEST HOUR afloat in an otherwise run-of-the-mill historical melodrama. Watching Churchill, as frail as he is, fly through the war room, which is constantly abuzz, is a peek behind the curtains at a diplomatic crisis that luckily never came to fruition. Of course, as DARKEST HOUR postulates, that’s thanks to the steady, but firm hand of Churchill.
While prosthetics can certainly be credited for Churchill’s look, Oldman is able to transcend that heavy makeup through his portrayal. Oldman is able to convey the warmth, ill-temperament, unselfishness and bluntness of Churchill. In the first couple of minutes, it’s a little odd to see the physically fit Oldman in a glorified fat suit, but once that wears off you’re lost in his mesmerizing performance, forgetting that he’s underneath all that thick makeup.
For those who felt DUNKIRK was lacking in narrative, they’ll certainly feel satisfied watching DARKEST HOUR; although they won’t get that powerful imagery of courage in the face of insurmountable odds. DARKEST HOUR doesn’t make any grand statement, but does give viewers a look at one of the most powerful men in history and why a little kindness can go a long way in swaying the opposition. It’s a message that rings true, even when the world isn’t on the brink of tearing itself apart.
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 1:85:1) Every facial wrinkle on Churchill’s face and every fine stitched thread on his 1940’s attire comes through clearly on this blu-ray.
Audio: (English Dolby TrueHD 7.1) The audio mix feels wonderfully balanced as the transitions from subdued conversation to boisterous speeches and arguments never feel jarring.
Audio Commentary with Director Joe Wright: I’ve mentioned it before that I’m not a big fan of solo commentary, but Wright manages to keep things flowing, even if he does sound like he’s reading a commercial for NPR.
Into DARKEST HOUR (8:16): This is a very brief feature, at least it feels brief. It compacts a lot of information into a short amount of time. It includes set design, costumes, side characters and cast and crew direction.
Gary Oldman: Becoming Churchill (4:19): This may be the most interesting feature, even if it isn’t given the proper amount of time it deserves. It dives into (while still glossing over) the physical transformation Oldman underwent.