• Darkest Hour



    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
    Released on: February 27, 2018
    Director: Joe Wright
    Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James, Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane
    Year: 2017
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    The Movie:

    Gary Oldman finally took home a Best Actor Oscar statuette this year for his towering performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, the historical drama from director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna) that also received recognition from the Academy for the amazing transformative work that went into vanishing the chameleonic Oldman completely into the character of an iconic statesman. It’s exactly the sort of film that used to clean up easily during slow awards season, but Darkest Hour has the benefit of being authentically entertaining, with Wright’s sharp direction and a screenplay by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) energizing a potentially stodgy narrative with deft humor and deeply humane characterizations embodied marvelously by Oldman and a first-rate supporting cast.

    The film begins in May 1940, when Adolf Hitler and his increasingly powerful Nazi army was bringing Europe to its knees one nation at a time and the weak leadership of prime minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) paved the way for the distrusted Churchill’s ascension into the important government position as he was the only choice who would be accepted by the Labour Party in Parliament. Despite misgivings from King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), Churchill immediately sets out to assemble a “war cabinet” packed with his rivals, including Chamberlain and Edward Wood (Stephen Dillane), the Viscount Halifax who had been the favorite for prime minister by the Conservative Party and the King until he refused the job.

    Churchill knows that there can be no negotiation for peace with Hitler (“You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!”) and strongly advocates England go to war with Germany. He encounters fierce opposition from Chamberlain and Wood and the reality that most of the country’s army is in retreat and stranded at Dunkirk, France with no hope for a safe evacuation. With the help of his new secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), Churchill begins planning Operation Dynamo, a desperate last resort to save England’s fighting forces using the largest fleet of civilian ships and boats ever assembled, in the hope that its success would convince King George and the war cabinet to forget about peace talks with Hitler and commit Great Britain to a long, costly, and destructive conflict that could leave the nation in ruins and another casualty of the Nazis’ ambition for world conquest.

    It's a testament to Wright’s strengths as a storyteller that both sides of the war debate are portrayed fairly in Darkest Hour; Churchill’s opponents understand the threat posed by Hitler’s Germany, but they fear risking the future of England and the lives of its people on a war they may not be able to win. No one could say for sure at the time what the outcome of the war would be. Churchill managed to plant the seeds for an international coalition to fight the Nazis in his steadfast refusal to even consider a peace accord. We know the prime minister will prevail in the end because he believes in his country and the fighting spirit of the Britons, but it’s also interesting to see that his ideas weren’t widely accepted at first, and the first great battle Churchill had to wage was against his own colleagues in the British government.

    Wright and screenwriter McCarten take the approach of carefully documenting the cases for both and peace, in the process allowing the supporting characters some the necessary complexity they would deprived of in a more conventional dramatization. The intelligent script confidently balances characterization and exposition as few historical dramas can achieve, instead stumbling backwards into the territory of mannered pageantry. The direction by Wright and Valerio Bonnelli’s (Florence Foster Jenkins) nimble editing skills keep the performances lively and the pacing solid.

    Although Churchill is clearly the central player in Darkest Hour’s conflicts, he would not be as interesting to watch if we weren’t able to see him through the eyes of his family, friends, and fellow politicians. Oldman is dynamic, funny, and bitterly poignant as Churchill, but his level is easily risen to – though rarely surpassed - by the supporting performances by Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient) as his loving and supportive wife Clemmie, Lily James (Baby Driver) as his secretary and unlikely friend and ally Elizabeth Layton, Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom), Ronald Pickup (The Day of the Jackal) as Neville Chamberlain, and Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones) as the Viscount Halifax.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Darkest Hour comes to Blu-ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment with a 1080p high-definition transfer accurately framed in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is simply astounding and gives the gorgeous cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis) the best home video presentation it could possibly hope for. Picture quality is clean, pitched at the perfect level of brightness to highlight the abundance of shafts of light and shadows bringing painterly beauty to Delbonnel’s camerawork, and black levels are deep and visible when they are present. The accurate skin tones and sharpened close-up details for the characters gives them life and poise, while the resolution boost strengthens texture in both the foreground and background.

    The sole English audio option is a Dolby Atmos track that gets its most prominent workout during the brief combat scenes, giving bomb drops and explosions volume and depth that will make you take immediate notice. Since the film is a dialogue-heavy affair, the Atmos mix offers a quiet yet immersive and undisruptive exhibition that allows the dramatically-charged exchanges and speeches to integrate peacefully with the pleasant but forgettable score by Dario Marianelli (who won an Oscar for scoring Wright’s Atonement) and the nuanced sound effects. Spanish 7.1 and French 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks have also been provided along with optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles.

    Director Wright contributes an audio commentary track that is by far the best of the limited extras selection. He manages to hold court solo most of the time - with only an occasional stretch of silence to be found - and provides a wealth of background for the film that covers its development, alterations made to the actual historical events for dramatic effect, the performances, and more.

    The only other extras are a pair of brief featurettes: “Into Darkest Hour” (8 minutes) is a general making-of short that is promotional in tone but gets to squeeze a decent amount of relevant info and soundbites into its condensed running time, and “Gary Oldman: Becoming Churchill” (4 minutes) does exactly what its title implies and gives us a quick look at how the film’s star immersed himself in the part through research, performance, and some extremely effect make-up. Previews for Phantom Thread, All I See Is You, and The Man Who Invented Christmas play upfront when the disc is loaded. Universal has also included a DVD copy and a digital download redemption code.

    The Final Word:

    Brilliantly made on nearly every level, Darkest Hour is entertaining historical cinema at its most powerful and timely. Gary Oldman rules the screen as Winston Churchill and he is backed up by a fantastic supporting cast. This is one of director Joe Wright’s best films in years, and Universal’s Blu-ray features superb picture and sound quality. The only letdown is the lack of substantial extras, though Wright’s commentary goes a long way towards rectifying that slight. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!