Darkest Hour – Joe Wright

Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ben Mendelsohn.
Photo Credit: Jack English/Focus Features

It’s a movie that was made for the Oscars; you have a brilliant performance of a historical figure, impressive makeup and costume to go with the times, the inclusion of a powerful wartime speech, and artistic camera work. Darkest Hour is not the best movie to come out in 2017, not by a long shot, but no one can argue it’s a quality film and quite enjoyable. You get a glimpse into Winston Churchill’s battle to gain the trust of the Cabinet when he takes over as British Prime Minister for Neville Chamberlain in the early days of World War II.

It actually fits in really well with another film that was featured in the same Best Picture category at the Oscars – Dunkirk. They take place at the same time and it would benefit moviegoers to watch them both for historical purposes. It’s a time in history that not everyone is familiar with and it’s very interesting to see things happen from the soldiers’ perspectives as well as the political perspective. The two films couldn’t be more different but they stay true to their perspectives: the soldier’s point of view is action-based while a politician’s point of view is all about words.

Most people can agree that Gary Oldman deserved an Oscar a long time ago. He finally took one home at the 90th Academy Awards in early March for his portrayal of Churchill. It wasn’t even a question that he would win. He disappears into the character and brings a lot of spunk to a man most people have only read about in history classes. But of course his performance wouldn’t have been as effective without the makeup team, so the three of them also brought home Oscar for their efforts in Darkest Hour. The supporting cast of Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, and Ben Mendelsohn is good, but be under no false illusion that Darkest Hour is anything but the ‘Gary Oldman Show’. It’s a mere snapshot in time after all, when Churchill was facing his biggest decisions as Prime Minister, so most other characters are just filler.

In addition to Best Actor in a Leading Role (won), Best Picture, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling (won), Darkest Hour was also nominated for Best Cinematography. It’s one of those things that is actually hard to ignore in this film. If it’s something you don’t usually notice, you likely will notice it here.

Darkest Hour takes place at a time in history where things could have gone very differently for Britain, and the rest of the world. It’s not an edge-of-your-seat thriller but you definitely feel the sense of urgency. Knowing the outcome, the movie is done in such a way that makes you want to slap some sense into the opposition. During Churchill’s speeches you may even find yourself thinking, “Damn straight! You tell ‘em Winston!”. It’s as close to a universally enjoyable movie as you can get without being animated and released by Pixar. At just over 2 hours it’s a fairly standard run-time for a film of this nature. There is also no content in it that would be any cause for concern while watching with family, young or old. It’ll make you giggle, make you cheer (internally), and you might even learn a few things! If you’re a historian, as long as you forgive the filmmakers for taking dramatic license to tell the story, you won’t regret watching Churchill navigate through Britain’s “darkest hour”.

Watch the official trailer here:

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The Revenant – Alejandro G. Iñárritu

The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Photo Credit: Everett/Rex/Shutterstock

The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson.
Photo Credit: Everett/Rex/Shutterstock

This is a movie about pain – mental and physical pain.  Leonardo DiCaprio will make you feel every bit of suffering endured by his character, Hugh Glass, in The Revenant, Alejandro Iñárritu‘s latest 156 min tour de force. If gore and death make you at all squeamish, this is not the movie for you. Arrows cutting through flesh, burning bodies, claws ripping through skin and crushing bone, the disembowelment of a horse, these are just a few things that might turn a lot of people off. But if you can handle it, you’re in for a film experience that doesn’t come around very often.

Fresh off of his Best Picture and Best Director win at the Oscars last year for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro Iñárritu has directed and written yet another masterpiece, although arguably less, shall we say, odd. The Revenant takes place in the early 19th century American wilderness and tells the (embellished) true story of Hugh Glass, a renowned fur-trapper who was left for dead by the men he was guiding after he was viciously mauled by a bear. The majority of the movie is watching him struggle to survive and watching him try to make his way back to the camp to face the man who ultimately made the decision to leave him (Tom Hardy).

From the group’s first ambush by natives, it’s clear that there will be a significant amount of violence throughout the movie. The scene with the bear is by far the most gruesome and realistic attack by a wild animal ever to be shown on screen; it just proves that there is absolutely no holding back in The Revenant. The horror stories from the set, from the freezing temperatures to the struggles to find the right setting and only being able to shoot an hour a day in order to get the ideal natural lighting, shows the director’s passion and desire to get things perfect. Whether or not you can stomach the brutal violence, there is no denying the fact that it is a visually stunning film. It’s as real as it’s going to get for a movie filmed in this age of technology.

There are incredibly strong performances in The Revenant, led of course by Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his most outstanding immersions into a character to date. This is what acting is. Every moment is a struggle for Hugh Glass and Leo makes sure the audience struggles with him every step of the way. Even though they aren’t getting as much credit as Leo, Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson are just as convincing, albeit with smaller roles (Tom Hardy also has a nomination for Best Supporting Actor). For a movie just over 2.5 hours, there isn’t much dialogue (especially for Leo) but nature and the subtle soundtrack play such strong parts that it doesn’t really matter. What Alejandro Iñárritu has done with this film is nothing short of spectacular. To get the audience to actually feel cold (and a little sore) when leaving the theatre is not an easy feat, and he certainly did his job with the help of the cast.

Nominated for 12 (of 14) Oscars, The Revenant will certainly walk away with a number of wins on February 29th – and it would be an utter travesty if Leonardo DiCaprio did not win Best Actor.

The Revenant saw a limited release in the U.S. at the end of December 2015 and has had a steady theatrical rollout from January 2016 through to the end of February 2016.

Update: The Revenant won Academy Awards for BEST ACTOR, BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY,  and BEST DIRECTOR

Water the official trailer here: