Darkest Hour should maybe be called Darkest Month. In 1940, Winston Churchill was asked by the King to take over as Prime Minister. It was a shitty time to get the job: Hitler was marching his Nazi army across Europe, and the threat of invasion was uncomfortably close. During this particular month, Churchill’s first on the job, he’s got an impossible task. He must decide whether to negotiate a treaty with Hitler, or whether to stand firm against the Nazis but in so doing risk his country. And he had to do this without his party’s support or the public’s understanding or any help from the King.
Winston Churchill is an iconic and influential figure in British history and he’s been portrayed with varying success by some truly venerable actors: Albert Finney, Brendan Gleeson, Timothy Spall, Robert Hardy, and most recently by John Lithgow in The Crown. He is not a saintly figure. He was a great orator but had some problematic positions that hindsight can’t afford to be kind about. Portrayals of him often emphasize his omnipresent cigar, and his particular style of speech (his custom dentures helped cover up a lisp). Gary Oldman is the gentleman tasked with bring old Winnie to life in Darkest Hour, and though he’s seen chomping on the necessary cigars, he turns the performance into something truly remarkable.
Oldman is transformed by makeup and prosthetics; his jowls are considerable. His tics and posture help render him unrecognizable. He dissolves into character. As Churchill he delivers some of history’s most famous and familiar speeches and he is electrifying. Kristin Scott Thomas as his tell-it-like-it-is wife, Lily James as his newbie secretary, and Ben Mendelsohn as the King help round out the cast but Darkest Hour feels like a one man show and Oldman is equal to the cast. Truthfully I don’t know many others who could carry 125 minutes of infamy, but Gary Oldman deserves his frontman status in all the Oscar pools. His portrayal is vigorous and complex and maybe even a little bit compassionate.
As for the movie itself, it’s not quite as formidable. The events are told simply, without a lot of cinematic flair, and it sometimes feels sluggish. There’s not a lot of imagination on display, and perhaps that’s an unfair criticism with the burden of historical accuracy weighing heavily, but director Joe Wright is more precise than entertaining. It’s Oldman who kept me in my seat, and I’m sure it’ll be Oldman bounding out of his on Oscar night to collect his well-deserved award.
The following paragraphs will make you think I haven’t seen The Hitman’s Bodyguard; let me assure you, I have. But I will struggle to summarize its plot. Or even locate the plot from between all the gratuitous explosions. I think it goes like this: Ryan Reynolds was once the caviar of bodyguards, but he let some VIP get shot in the brains, and now he’s been downgraded to the spam of bodyguards, which is really, really embarrassing and he’d do just about anything to be caviar again.
Meanwhile: Samuel L. Jackson is a hitman who is safely in prison. BUT he’d also be an excellent witness in an international court of law against a crazed, genocidal Belorussian dictator (Gary Oldman). So he cuts a deal: if they let out his wife (Selma Hayek), he’ll give testimony. The only catch is that every other witness has been systematically murdered. Sam Jackson nearly is as well, but one of Ryan Reynolds’ disgruntled CIA exes calls him in at the last minute to try to get Jackson to the Hague in one piece.
I suspect that this movie is bad because it never slows down long enough for you to ask yourself whether you’re enjoying things. The thing feels like it’s been edited by a two year old high on 5 juice boxes. It relies HEAVILY on the odd couple banter between Ryan and Sam, but if this is a Deadpool wannabe, it should wannabe harder. I feel like I just ran an obstacle course and I’m just so grateful to have crossed the finish line I cannot recall a single event along the way. Bleeding eardrums, I think. Some tulips? A car that smells like ass. The Hitman’s Bodyguard may not be an actual movie but just a compilation video of Reynolds’ and Jackson’s greatest hits. Lots of motherfuckers. Lots of explodey explosions. I refuse to overthink this one.
An astronaut behaved irresponsibly and went on the first mission to Mars pregnant. Never mind that they won’t even do surgery on me without double checking that I’m fetus-free, somehow they let this woman go into space without peeing on a stick and they blame HER. Even when she dies in childbirth. It’s such a shameful scandal that they decide to keep her pregnancy and the resulting baby a secret from everyone watching on Earth…which means they raise her kid on Mars and no one outside a select few astronauts even knows he exists.
The kid, Gardner (Asa Butterfield), now in his teens, has lived entirely on Mars. He’s only met about a dozen other people, all astronauts colonizing Mars, including Kendra (Carla Gugino), the woman who is quasi-raising him. He’s smart, as someone raised by a team of scientists would tend to be, and he finds a way to have secretive chats with Earth-girl Tulsa (Britt Robertson). She doesn’t know who he really is, and wouldn’t believe him anyway. But when he shows up at her school (after a months-long journey of course) she is still keen to go on a father-finding adventure with him, while he marvels, mouth agape, at all the wonderful Earthy things he’s only read about in books. Kendra and program director Nathanial (Gary Oldman) chase after him, knowing his organs cannot withstand Earth’s atmosphere.
You might think that the teen romance genre and the sci-fi genre are not natural bedmates, and that’s a fair worry, but it’s not what troubles the movie. The movie failed way before that. There’s actually not much space between the leads, who spend more of the movie sharing a truck cab than on two separate planets. But what we really need to be concerned about is the excruciating nonsense between them. The uncomfortable schmaltz between them. The insane leaps of logic between them. The unforgivable cliches between them.
The movie just doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s not even charming as a fish-out-of-water story because there’s little time between them to stop and smell the roses. This movie is a time-waster at best – not a memorable one, and not an entertaining one. If it was titled The Waste of Space Between Us, at least you’d know what you were in for.