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Darkest Hour

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Darkest Hour

When Winston Churchill became England’s Prime Minister in 1940, he was already an accomplished man. He had served his country in the Military during World War I and had received a Nobel Prize for literature. He ascended at a time of political chaos and controversy as his country watched Nazi Germany absorb Europe. It certainly was England’s Darkest Hour.

This movie brings that dark period to life under the hand of director Joe Wright and a cast of fine actors who literally drop us into the government chaos as England faced imminent attack on their own country after the fall of Europe. As the movie opens, we watch the superb actor Gary Oldman begin his portrait of the complicated Churchill who is wrestling with both the dissension in Parliament and his own unpopularity.

As Churchill works toward his ultimate refusal to surrender to Germany, we watch him explore his position and write it out with the help of his trusted typing assistant Elizabeth Layton. She is played by Lily James with beautiful serenity and depth that cover her own fears. The rest unfolds in the explosive atmosphere of the angry Parliament and in periodic appearances by Churchill’s wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) who knows exactly how to support her husband and prod him forward.

Director Wright and his cameramen roam the halls of power in the relative safety of the dark underground world beneath London. He focuses on the angry chaos of the decision makers – Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), and King George (Ben Mendelsohn). In answer to Churchill’s plea for help, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers the depressing message that America has signed neutrality agreements. In a strong scene, Churchill boards a subway to learn how British citizens are feeling about surrender vs. battle. They reinforce his instincts.

Atop this atmosphere, Gary Oldman is outstanding. With padding and jowls that make him thoroughly credible, Oldman has been fashioned into a genuine look-a-like for the prime minister, a stroke that allows viewers to sink thoroughly into the 1940 reality the movie is presenting. Oldman gives us all the twists and turns of Churchill’s unique self as he wrestles with the options under debate by his peers. This brings to life that narrow slice of history when England stood alone against Germany and paints the rise of Churchill as he takes on his opponents and ultimately sets the future course of England and Europe.

The historical time, the place, the story – all are beautifully done; but it is Gary Oldman who slips into that complicated time with a deeply thoughtful creation of one of history’s most crucial players. When he snarls, “You can’t reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth,” it says all that needs to be said of England’s dire situation. Director Wright is not afraid to allow long pauses as emphasis for complex and important statements. Or as Churchill’s opponent says, “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Darkest Hour
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 2:05
Rating: PG-13
Date: 7 January 2018

 

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

Mark Felt is a beautifully crafted movie about the role of secret agent Deep Throat in the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon. It can be hard to follow for people who were very young at the time. If you were uninterested back then, you may be bored. If you were, as I was, riveted by the unfolding story, you may be fascinated by a superbly controlled performance by Liam Neeson. This is an absorbing piece of American history.

For nearly fifty years as head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover kept deeply personal files on public figures to the point where presidents, movie stars, and businessmen dared not cross him for fear of exposure. When Hoover died in 1972, Deputy Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) expected to be promoted to the job after his own thirty years in the bureau.

His hopes were crushed when Richard Nixon became president and appointed his own loyalist, L. Patrick Gray as chief of the FBI. When the multiple crimes of the Nixon administration began to leak out, Gray did all he could to discover who in the bureau was passing the facts to the Washington Post. It was, of course, Mark Felt, labelled Deep Throat by Bob Woodward of the Post. Felt passed information to Woodward in absolute secrecy that was maintained until he revealed his identity in 2005.

Nixon and his White House staff were running burglaries, illegal wiretaps, and money laundering. Mark Felt passed the proof to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward who published it as he assembled evidence. Few will forget the day Richard Nixon resigned and boarded a plane in shame with the same wave of his arm he had always used in victory.

The strength of this movie is the genuinely interesting picture of Felt’s values and character as he brought down a presidential administration that was awash in multiple crimes. Liam Neeson captures the sadness of a loyal, smart man denied his promotion by the very people he was investigating. The actor has a compelling grasp of Mark Felt, the loyal FBI man who was watching the White House puncture the system.

Neeson shows Felt’s anger through a determination to discover and to end White House corruption. Honest to the core, he suffers not just from losing the head job at the FBI but from having his new boss be a Nixon loyalist. Neeson paints a portrait of a man loyal to country and to his organization, a husband and father capable of tenderness but locked in the fight to expose Richard Nixon’s crimes. As Felt’s wife Audrey, Diane Lane paints a woman who lives in isolation in the same house as her preoccupied husband.

This is an intricate story – often hard to follow – of complex personalities and rivalries with an honorable man at its center. If you were alive and interested in its unfolding in the ‘70s, you’ll be fascinated; if not it’s one valuable history lesson.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Mark Felt
Word Count : 497
Running Time: 1:43
Rating : PG-13
Date : October 15, 2017