Darkest Hour: Movie Man Jackson

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. There’s nothing but difficulty in Great Britain circa 1940. Smack dab in the early part of World War II, the German forces are invading and ransacking their opposition, the pressure’s on England to fortify their national security. The populace (read: Parliament) doesn’t believe their current Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain is up to the task, so he is ousted.

In steps Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), not the first replacement choice but the second and possibly the only choice who can rally an European party of decision makers. He needs to, because most are advocating the white flag surrender to Hitler. But, Churchill, in all his intestinal fortitude, refuses to lay down. His words are going to have to be decisive to get Britain out of her Darkest Hour. 

There’s something honest about Darkest Hour. Not necessarily in its presentation of facts (far from a completely and unabashedly artistically licensed movie, but it’s definitely present), but what director Joe Wright’s (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) film is primed to do. What is that? Serve major awards prospects on a silver platter for one of the best actors today. And he’s eating.

Darkest Hour begins and ends with the work of Gary Oldman. Prosthetics and makeup sometimes have the wrong intended effect; instead of making a thespian more believable and lifelike in their famous figure portrayal, the figure ends up feeling artificial and even unintentionally comical. Costume designer and longtime Joe Wright collaborator Jacqueline Duran deserves a ton of credit, as does the general set cast for recreating the stuffiness and feel of these conference and war rooms on display. But Oldman never lets the getup overshadow his performance.

Occasionally called out for overacting in a couple of roles, Oldman finds a strong balance of power mixed with restrain. The Oscar clips are here, but honestly, the more quieter moments such as Churchill speaking with the President or coming to grips with his doubts resonate just as much, if not more so, than the big ones. He’s earned whatever accolades come his way. Providing sound support are Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI, Lily James as Elizabeth Layton, and Kristen Scott Thomas as Clemmie.

Light is used to great effect in Darkest Hour, creating this sort of sheen that matches most of the setting impeccably. There’s not much else that pops out; Wright’s directing here seems to take a background relegation its star and rightfully so. Anthony McCarten handles script duties. We see the struggles of Churchill galvanizing his party, and struggling with his feeling on whether he’s doing the right thing. Rinse, repeat. That’s the extent of it, really, but, it’s enough to get the film from point A to point B.

Without victory, there is no survival. That was also once said by Winston Churchill. Let’s tweak it to, “Without Gary Oldman, there is no Darkest Hour.

B-

Photo credits go to variety.com, wikipedia.org, express.co.uk, and azcentral.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Hacksaw Ridge: Movie Man Jackson

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Going to need a strong drink after this one. Maybe four or five. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) has long been a God-fearing Christian, and all-around good guy, who’s seen a few things growing up that has shaped him to be who he is. Who he is happens to be a pacifist; he doesn’t believe in killing people or even handling a firearm.

Being a pacifist isn’t an issue…except when Doss decides to join the Army as a medic in an effort to serve his country during its most important time in World War II. Even carrying the status of a conscientious objector, many in his squadron don’t believe Doss will be there when the chips are down and bully him into quitting. But a man of such strong conviction is one people should want on their side when the going gets tough, and it gets no tougher than Hacksaw Ridge, a battleground on the island of Okinawa that could turn the tide of the war if won.

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There’s really no point in comparing the two, but I can’t help it, as it is something that has stuck with me since early in the movie. Isn’t Hacksaw Ridge sort of like The Birth of a Nation? Not story-wise or anything, but both movies arrived in theaters with biographical subject matter, as well as controversial actions done by their directors. It can be argued (even likely) that Mel Gibson, director of Hacksaw Ridge, is much more controversial than director Nat Turner, for the simple fact that he’s been in the limelight longer for his actions to be unfurled. But like many things in life, winning cures a lot of ill will, and the same goes in cinema. Mel Gibson has a winner in Hacksaw Ridge.

How does he do it? A multitude of ways, but it starts with the writing. Gibson’s not a writer in this, but co-writers Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan are. Together, they pen a compelling story about being convicted in one’s beliefs. Though Christianity is an important characteristic of the main character Desmond, this isn’t a film that pushes that, it pushes more the strength of the human spirit, and how anything can be done with the right determination. Granted, it isn’t a groundbreaking story, but it feels very authentic. Know how true stories and stories about biographical historical figures can be very Hollywoodized? Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t really feel as such, maybe because for all intents and purposes, this is a screenplay that is not exactly original, but by no means adapted, either.

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This does not mean that Hacksaw Ridge‘s screenplay is perfect, however. Some of the first third of the movie is a little too clunky for my personal liking. And though this is clearly a story about Doss, the second act of the movie (if ever so briefly but still) seems to want to explore a few other characters in the squadron, but the third act comes and hardly anything is known about any of them aside from some endearing nicknames. Otherwise, they are somewhat faceless entities.

So not every character gets a lot of meat. But character shortcomings are not due to any fault of the cast. As Desmond Doss, Andrew Garfield turns in the work of his career, and it comes across so effortless. Okay, his accent isn’t completely on point, but it is more than passable and after a while, you stop listening to vocal oddities because he just sinks into the role. Every other actor/actress around him is firmly of the support fashion, but all stand out in whatever screentime they possess. Teresa Palmer can do so much more, yet she very captivating the moment she steps on screen, and Hugo Weaving could have an entire film anchored by his character, he’s that good here.

One has to give it to Gibson to coaxing great performances from guys who aren’t known for dramatic work. The troika of Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, and Luke Bracey all fit in perfectly. Out of the three, Bracey is the only other character in the entire feature who gets somewhat solid development.

But being honest here, as great as the acting and as good as the overall story is, Hacksaw Ridge is going to be remembered for its unrelenting war action ultraviolence that dominates the 3rd act. It comes so sudden and doesn’t let up once it does. The Hacksaw Ridge battleground itself is extremely frightening, a mix of uneven geography, perpetual haze, and depressing grey. Gibson gets a little too slo-mo happy in the final moments, but otherwise, the comparisons to Saving Private Ryan are warranted.

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10 years is a long time to be away from the directing chair, but it’s clear Gibson hasn’t lost much, if anything. Succeeding as first a stirring drama and then a visceral wartime action, Hacksaw Ridge isn’t likely to be forgotten anytime soon.

A-

Photo credits go to metro.co.uk, theplaylist.net, and screencrush.com

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