“Darkest Hour,” directed by Joe Wright, is a great historical drama that may win Gary Oldman an Oscar for his memorable performance as Winston Churchill. It recounts the tension taking place in England in May 1940, when Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) as Prime Minister.
Churchill was not a popular man in governmental circles, and he faced a War Cabinet that urged peace negotiations with Hitler. As described in Lloyd Clark’s recent book “Blitzkrieg,” Nazi Germany was quickly bringing Holland, Belgium and France to their knees, and Britain was left with more than 300,000 soldiers trapped in the French coastal town of Dunkirk.
Churchill’s instinct was to fight to the last man standing, but his own conservative party, led by Viscount Halifax (Stephan Dillane), felt strongly that a settlement with Hitler was the only reasonable solution. Even King George VI, played in a magnetic fashion by Ben Mendelsohn, initially questioned Churchill’s judgment and ability.
Churchill harbored his own self-doubts, and it was here that Oldman captured the magic of the moment. While he miraculously found strength from combining cigars with whiskey, wine and port from morning to night, his wife Clementine was his most ardent supporter. Kristin Scott Thomas is stunning in her role as a spouse whose love and admiration strengthens her husband’s backbone.
As vividly shown in Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece “Dunkirk,” British resolve saved an army from destruction on the French beaches in early June, 1940. But the only way that happened was because one man, Winston Churchill, had the courage to urge his countrymen to never surrender.
Let me also point out the captivating performance of Lily James, who played Elizabeth Layton, Churchill’s personal secretary. As recently shown in “Baby Driver,” she is an accomplished actress. Here, she captures your heart as a young woman who learns to tolerate Churchill’s moods while privately mourning her boyfriend’s disappearance while fighting in France. Through her, you learn the horrible cost of war.
Finally, this film helps to restore Churchill’s reputation largely destroyed in the lackluster film released earlier this year titled under his last name. Painted as an egotist who tried to prevent the D-Day invasion in June 1944, he now is rightfully honored as the man who paved the way for the victory of World War II.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a film that defines why many of us love the movie experience. I saw the first Star Wars movie when it was released in 1977, and it carved a special spot in my cinematic soul. As he descended to impending doom, who can forget Hans Solo’s sarcastic response of “I know” to Princess Leia as she said, “I love you.”
The bottom line is that Star Wars movies make the viewer of any age feel young again. Sure, Harrison Ford’s Han Solo died in the last film in the series while Carrie Fisher left us in real life this past year, but young actors make sure that none of us forget the mantra, “May the force be with you.”
It doesn’t really matter that the basic plot hasn’t changed in any of these films. Its significance rests on both the enchanting music by John Williams and that you care about all of the characters in the film, both good and bad. The simple fact is that their interpersonal relationships have meaning.
With our rebel group dancing on the verge of being wiped out, Rey (Daisey Ridley) tries to convince a reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to come to the rescue. In the meantime, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) are left to battle a superior destructive force led by Snoke (Andy Serkis), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and the unforgettable Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
While all of these actors, including the wonderful Laura Dern as the rebel Vice Admiral Holdo, make meaningful contributions, let’s start with Ridley’s interaction with Hamill. Though she needs the last Jedi to return to combat, how does she overcome the simple fact that he is an aging man who simply wants to die peacefully in isolation?
And while the dedicated Finn wonders if his friend Rey is still alive, he teams with Rose (a completely delightful Kelly Marie Tran) to infiltrate and destroy a key enemy spaceship. Boyega’s Finn and Tran’s Rose develop a closeness that transcends friendship, and her possible death will leave you as crushed as Finn.
And then there is Driver’s dynamic performance as Kylo Ren, a Nazi-like villain who has a heart that he is trying to crush. Despite the fact that he killed his father, Han Solo, in “The Force Awakens,” his attraction to Rey keeps you hoping that he finds a way to escape the dark side. The answer will not surprise you, but Ren’s journey is one of the captivating features of a captivating movie.
Whether you see it at an IMAX theater or on a regular screen is completely irrelevant. Just see it.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.•
• Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.