Darkest Hour (Film Review) – Gary Oldman Shines In An Okay Film

Darkest Hour is a British war drama directed by Joe Wright. The film stars Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James and Gary Oldman. The film is set during World War Two (WW2) and focuses on Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). We gain insight into his early days as Prime Minister and how he deals with the threat of Hitler and Nazi Germany as they close in on Britain after their ruthless conquest throughout Europe.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Darkest Hour

Since its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in September 2017, Darkest Hour has been lauded by film critics. Indeed, the main consensus I have seen in the reviews for this film has been that Gary Oldman is terrific as Winston Churchill. In fact, even though Daniel Day-Lewis is involved in the race to win Best Actor as the Oscars, it seems as though Gary Oldman is a lock to win that award. Forget just being nominated, a win seems likely if film critics and pundits are to be believed.

I could not wait to see his performance as one of the most notable historical figures in British history. Certainly, Churchill is a man who has earned his place in history as one of the great wartime leaders. However, he is flawed and I wanted Darkest Hour to explore that. I did not want this film to be a fluff piece that is completely one-sided in favour of Churchill. I hoped Gary Oldman would portray Churchill in a way where we explore the positive and negative side of the man.

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour

Still, while Gary Oldman has been the primary focus of critical acclaim, I was looking forward to see the rest of the cast too in the story that would be told. Interestingly, the story of Darkest Hour is based on subject matter that we have seen recently; the Dunkirk evacuation. Films centred around WW2 and specifically the Dunkirk evacuation seem to the norm these days. In 2017, we had Their Finest and Dunkirk and we now have Darkest Hour. I hoped the latter would be the best of those films.

My Thoughts on Darkest Hour

Sadly, I did not like Darkest Hour that much. It is an okay film that has a tremendous central performance by Gary Oldman. Make no mistake, he is awesome as Churchill. I have mentioned before about how one great performance can steal the film from the rest of the cast. In Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman does not just overpower the cast, he overpowers the entire film. For me, his performance carried a film which, as a whole, is quite boring and drab.

Indeed, I was yawning quite a lot during the film. Unless I am tired, this is not a good sign for the ability of a film to keep one hooked from beginning to end. The only thing that kept me engaged was Gary Oldman’s performance. After seeing Darkest Hour, I can see how deserving Gary Oldman is of his Oscar nomination for Best Actor. On the other hand, it completely baffles me how Darkest Hour got nominated for Best Picture over films such as Blade Runner 2049, Molly’s Game, Wind River and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill and Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour

The Humanisation of Churchill

Still, one thing that I strongly believe Darkest Hour does well is humanising Churchill. Certainly, notable figures such as Churchill take on a legendary status in history. However, we must not forget that historical figures like Churchill are still people and, as such, flawed. Darkest Hour portrays these flaws. I was happy that the film did what I hoped it would do; expose the strengths and weaknesses of Churchill. Darkest Hour is not a propaganda piece that portrays him as a God. Throughout the film, we see his doubts and insecurities which grounded Darkest Hour.

I also liked how, at certain points, we see black bars on frames/scenes of Churchill to illustrate isolation. These little touches were very important to showcase Churchill in a very human way. The relationship that he had with his personal secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) also humanised him. I found their interactions in Darkest Hour to be very genuine. I could connect to Churchill as a person rather than a historical legend.

My Final Thoughts on Darkest Hour

The humanisation of Churchill was something I did appreciate about Darkest Hour. However, the film as whole did not reach a level where I liked it. As I said, the film is quite boring. While Gary Oldman’s performance is awesome, it is not enough to save the film. Gary Oldman is the sole reason you should watch Darkest Hour. Nothing else comes close to the quality he shows in this film. He overpowers the rest of the cast and you forget about their performances. Without Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour would completely fail as a film.

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill at Parliament in Darkest Hour

The film does enough to be better than Their Finest. However, I did not like that film at all. Darkest Hour is not as good as Dunkirk. Dunkirk is a very good film but not the masterpiece some proclaim it to be. Darkest Hour sits right in the middle of these recent films that have been based around the Dunkirk evacuation. In the end. it is an okay film. Still, I will not deny that Darkest Hour has a brilliant performance by Gary Oldman which is deserving of the praise it has received.

Darkest Hour Film Review

 

Call of Duty: WW2 (Video Game Campaign Review) – A Step In The Right Direction

Call of Duty: WW2 is a first-person shooter developed by Sledgehammer Games. It has been released on Playstation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows. It is the fourteenth instalment in the Call of Duty franchise. It is also the first Call of Duty video game to be set in World War Two (WW2) since Call of Duty: World at War.

The campaign takes place in the European theatre of WW2. It focuses on a squad in the 1st Infantry Division and we follow their battles on the Western Front. This is particularly the case when it comes to the events of Operation Overlord.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Call of Duty: WW2

If you read my review of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, you will know that I was not hugely impressed with that video game. I found the campaign, while an improvement over Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Call of Duty: Ghosts, to be a bit soulless. Moreover, it continued my tumultuous relationship with that franchise. Indeed, I have not loved a Call of Duty campaign since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. I have been let down by previous entries in this franchise. In fact, my hatred for Black Ops II and Ghosts made me have no interest in playing the campaigns in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

Call of Duty WW2 D-Day Cutscene

Still, if any Call of Duty campaign was to get me back in love with this franchise, it would most likely be the one in Call of Duty: WW2. Without a doubt, I was getting tired of the futuristic instalments in this franchise. Hence, going back to WW2, which is what made Call of Duty such a beloved franchise, was a smart move. To play a WW2 campaign was the only reason why I was excited for Call of Duty: WW2. I wanted it to do what Infinite Warfare could not; get me excited for future Call of Duty video games.

My Thoughts on Call of Duty: WW2

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by Call of Duty: WW2. This is a good campaign. Undoubtedly, it is the best Call of Duty campaign since Modern Warfare 3. While not perfect, I did find myself enjoying this campaign more and more as it went on. Indeed, I contest that the story gets progressively better. Certainly, at the start, I was not enamoured with the story of Call of Duty: WW2. It felt too obvious that the campaign missions were just tutorials for the multiplayer.

That is a trend I have been seeing in video game campaigns recently. I was disappointed that the Call of Duty: WW2 campaign was initially falling victim to this. Moreover, while the gameplay was good, it made me realise how much better Destiny 2 feels as a first-person shooter. Still, I appreciated qualities in the campaign such as the beautiful graphics, the great setting and its realistic nature. The cutscenes where also very life-like. Indeed, at times, they were better than the actual game. Despite my problems at the start, I was enjoying the campaign enough that I continued to play it.

Call of Duty WW2 Prisoner Concentration Camp Cutscene

I am glad I did because, as I said, it got better as it went on. I found myself getting more invested into the story and characters as each mission led to the next. The campaign does a very good job at fleshing out the characters in its second half. Some of the missions were also extremely tense and gritty. It was clear to see how much of an influence Band of Brothers had on the campaign. Certainly, some missions felt very similar to episodes in that show. Yet, to compare the two is unfair. This is because Band of Brothers, for me, is one of the greatest television shows of all time.

The Cinematic Feeling Is Ruined By One Thing

It is especially unfair to compare the two seeing as Call of Duty: WW2 is not as cinematic. Indeed, this is my biggest problem with the campaign. Within the actual story told and the beautiful cutscenes, the campaign is cinematic. However, for me, a big part of how cinematic a video game campaign feels is down to how well it flows from one mission to the next.

This is where Call of Duty: WW2 completely fails. At the end of a mission, you are taken to a screen showing you your achievements. Furthermore, you have a voice-over by the main character. This was not great. However, it was made worse by the fact that I was then taken to a menu to choose the next mission. I hated this. It totally ruined the flow of the story being told and the cinematic nature of the campaign. You know the setting and how far you are into the campaign. I never want to know these things while playing a campaign. It negates my enjoyment of it.

Call of Duty WW2 Battle of the Bulge

I would have liked the campaign much more if each mission seamlessly blended in with the next one. I do find the campaign in Call of Duty: WW2 to be flawed. Yet, more good than bad can be found within it. Additionally, I see this campaign to be a step in the right direction for the Call of Duty franchise. I hope it is only onwards and upwards from here. We will have to wait and see what is in store. I absolutely want more campaigns based on historical events. However, I never know where Call of Duty is going to go next. Nonetheless, I have more hope than before that this franchise can regain its former glory.

Dunkirk (Film Review) – Good, But Not Nolan’s Best

Dunkirk is a war film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. It features an ensemble cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles (Yes, that Harry Styles), Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy. The film is set during World War II (WW2) and focuses on the Dunkirk Evacuation of 1940. The story is told from three different perspectives (Land, Sea and Air) which are interwoven in a non-linear narrative.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Dunkirk

Dunkirk has been one of my most anticipated films of the year and the sole reason why this was the case was because of Christopher Nolan. In my opinion, he is the best director working in the film industry today. Additionally, he is cementing his legacy as being one of the greatest directors of all time. Certainly, I regard Inception as one of, if not the greatest film made so far in the 21st century. I believe that The Dark Knight is the best superhero film ever made and that The Dark Knight Trilogy is one of the best trilogies of all time. Other films by Christopher Nolan such as Interstellar and The Prestige are also fantastic films.

For me, Nolan has not made a bad film. Even his weakest film, which I believe is Insomnia, is still a good film. All of this set the bar very high for Dunkirk, especially when we look at the cast involved. Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy have worked with Nolan before and have given great performances when they have. I was interested to see what Mark Rylance would bring to Dunkirk because he was my favourite part of Bridge of Spies and I was hoping that Harry Styles would not take me out of the film. Any film about WW2 is going to garner my attention, but Christopher Nolan directing a WW2 film was salivating. I could not wait to see Dunkirk.

Harry Styles as Alex in Dunkirk

My Thoughts on Dunkirk

I liked Dunkirk. While I feel that Christopher Nolan has made much better films, Dunkirk is good. One of the best aspects of this film is the score. Once again, Hans Zimmer delivers and gives us a brilliant score that successfully builds tension and seamlessly blends into the pacing and sound of the film. The sound of Dunkirk was also something to behold, especially if you see this film in IMAX like I did. Whether it was gunfire, the sound of aircraft or the impact of a bullet, the sound was bombastic and very authentic. It really improved my viewing experience.

Dunkirk also got progressively better with each act. Everything in the film built to an ending which I loved. I felt that the ending was such a beautiful way to conclude a film which focused on a situation in WW2 that was so devoid of hope and full of suffering and despair. I left Dunkirk feeling hopeful and inspired about how the acts of civilians saved so many lives. Additionally, I appreciated how the progression of the film’s narrative was paced very well.

Tom Hardy as Farrier in Dunkirk

My favourite characters in Dunkirk were played by Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh. However, therein lies one of my issues with this film; I cannot remember the names of these characters. Indeed, the way Dunkirk was made and structured left me struggling to connect to the characters in this film. However, this was not as big as an issue as it was for others because I understood Nolan’s decision to focus more on the situation rather than specific people involved in this event.

My Biggest Issue With Dunkirk

However, a decision that I cannot understand and prevents this film from ranking amongst the best Nolan films and best war films was to make Dunkirk 12A/PG-13. Dunkirk is a war film. Now, I have never been involved in a war or combat and I hope I never will. However, as someone who has studied history and someone who has read/watched plenty of first-hand accounts of various modern wars and conflicts I am quite confident in making this statement; War is not 12A/PG-13.

British Soldiers at Dunkirk

For me, some of the best films about warfare such as Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge and We Were Soldiers portrayed war in its most realistic and truthful form. Those films were brutal, gritty and uncompromising in their depiction of war. Because of this, any film that is below the standard established by the films that I mentioned above means that I struggle to emotionally connect to the situation and the characters.

Unfortunately, the inability of Dunkirk to give us a graphic depiction of this pivotal event in WW2 prevented me from loving the film. The use of practical effects and certain moments did give the film some realism and brutality. Yet, I just felt that this film was watered down to appeal to a wider audience instead of being faithful to the nature of this event. Still, not everyone will agree with my views on this particular matter. More importantly, the good in this film outweighs the bad. While Nolan has made better films, Dunkirk is worth seeing and it could rank higher for me after repeat viewings.

Their Finest (Film Review) – Serviceable but Forgettable

Their Finest is a British war drama directed by Lone Scherfig and is based on the 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half which was written by Lissa Evans. The film stars Gemma ArtertonSam ClaflinBill NighyJack HustonJake LacyRichard E. GrantRachael Stirling and Jeremy Irons. The story is set in Britain during World War II (WW2) and focuses on the making of a morale-boosting film by a British Ministry of Information film team. The film being made is about the Dunkirk evacuation but the filming is taking place during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Their Finest

To be honest, I knew little about Their Finest. I had seen little marketing for the film, I had not seen any trailers for it and had not read or watched any reviews. ­The only thing I knew was that Bill Nighy was in it and I thought I might as well give Their Finest a chance. Certainly, I like Bill Nighy but I also like films set during WW2 and I had a feeling that I could be pleasantly surprised by this film.

Sam Claflin and Gemma Arterton in Their Finest

My Thoughts on Their Finest

I was wrong. I did not like Their Finest. It is a serviceable film but it did not impact me. I was never emotionally invested in the story or the characters and I feel as though a big reason for this is down to how boring the film is. For me, it does not have a point to exist and it is very forgettable.

There were a few things I did enjoy to a small degree. Bill Nighy was my favourite part of Their Finest but this was simply because he was being himself. He was not acting and his natural demeanour in the film was probably why he was the character I liked the most. I thought Gemma Arterton was fine in the lead role and it was nice to see Jeremy Irons pop up in one scene.

Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy in Their Finest

Still, none of this elevated Their Finest to a place where I am gasping to watch it again. For me, this film is very disposable, boring, pointless and disappointing. I cannot recommend that you should see it as soon as you can.

Hacksaw Ridge (Film Review) – A Brutal Depiction of War

Hacksaw Ridge is a biographical war drama directed by Mel Gibson and stars Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving and Vince Vaughn in supporting roles and Andrew Garfield in the lead role. The story of this film is set during World War II (WW2) and focuses on Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an American combat medic who refused to carry or use a firearm or weapons of any kind. He eventually become the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Hacksaw Ridge

I have been looking forward to Hacksaw Ridge for a while due to the fact that it has received a lot of buzz since it was released in the United States last November. Additionally, the cast is extremely talented and the film has garnered a few Oscar nominations including Best Actor for Andrew Garfield, Best Picture and Best Director for Mel Gibson which itself was controversial. Certainly, Mel Gibson has a very chequered past and the criticism he received for his past actions was deserved.

Nevertheless, despite what you may think of Mel Gibson as a person, you cannot deny that he is an extremely talented director and actor. Indeed, he was the man responsible for creating my favourite film of all time; Braveheart. My love for that film meant that Hacksaw Ridge immediately became one of my most anticipated films during this awards season. If Gibson recaptured any of the magic of Braveheart, then I was in store for a great film.

Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn on the set of Hacksaw Ridge

My Thoughts on Hacksaw Ridge

To my delight, Hacksaw Ridge met my expectations. Truly, the actions scenes in Hacksaw Ridge depict conflict during WW2 in such a raw and savage way that it evoked my experience of watching Saving Private Ryan for the first time. In fact, I would argue that this is the best war film made since Saving Private Ryan.

A big reason why this is the case is down to the way in which Gibson structured this film. The film can be split into two parts. The first half of Hacksaw Ridge is essentially set-up for Doss’ actions in the Battle of Okinawa in the second half of the film. This structure allows us to get emotionally attached to the characters and understand why Garfield’s character has the philosophy that he has. As a result, we have a lot of pay-off in the action-packed second half of the film which is tense, uncompromising and emotional.

Indeed, the man sitting next to my right was having a visceral reaction to what was happening on the screen in the second half of the film. This is a credit to Mel Gibson who did a fantastic job in directing Hacksaw Ridge and also bringing out great performances from the cast. Certainly, Andrew Garfield is fantastic in the lead role and the supporting cast also elevated the quality of the film.

Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge

The Score in Hacksaw Ridge

Another aspect of Hacksaw Ridge which I thought was really good but is seemingly underrated is the score, orchestrated by Rupert Gregson-Williams. For me, the score/soundtrack is one of the most important elements of a film. When the music in a film is good, it vastly improves its quality and makes it more memorable. The score in Hacksaw Ridge, which echoes the music in films such as Kingdom of Heaven and The Last Samurai, achieves this feat. In fact, I listened to the score immediately after I saw Hacksaw Ridge and it cemented my belief that this score is being overlooked as being one of the strongest aspects of the film.

In fact, Hacksaw Ridge has a lot of strong aspects which, when combined, make this a film which is worthy of the awards and nominations it has received. Fantastic directing by Mel Gibson, great acting by the cast, a memorable score along with the best depiction of war since Saving Private Ryan make Hacksaw Ridge the most well-done war film since Saving Private Ryan and something you must see as soon as possible.