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Tag: Gary Oldman

QuickView: Darkest Hour (2017)

“You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.”

Winston Churchill

At a time when Churchill has rightly been undergoing a reevaluation, Darkest Hour disappointingly skirts any controversial topics by focusing on a few weeks at the start of his premiership, deciding as France falls whether to engage in peace talks with Germany. In a masterful, Oscar-winning performance, Gary Oldman entirely disappears into Churchill’s visage, aided by prosthetics but sold through the physicality of his mannerisms and intonation. It is a complex portrayal that incorporates the irrascible man of words, iconically defiant against the odds, but also a privately wavering man, weakened by alcoholism, and a man who lied to the British people in his first broadcast as prime minister. The film constructed around it, however, is the most banal patriotism, content simply to deify him as a rousing orator. Most jarring is a transparently fabricated sequence in which Churchill rides the underground to seek the public’s opinion, his Macaulay quotation completed by a black Londoner in a rose-tinted portrayal of multiculturalism and British fearlessness. It is saccharine Oscar-bait, and undermines the verisimilitude that pervades much of Darkest Hour. The cinematography suits the title, scenes grimly bathed in shadow and desaturated, frequently near-monochrome, much occuring within the confines of the subterranean War Rooms. There are brief sequences of war in France, and Joe Wright revisits the Dunkirk evacuation (though never in so striking a fashion as his astonishing long take in Atonement). In Wright’s hands, this is all highly competent and compelling filmmaking but, Oldman’s peformance aside, Darkest Hour is a hagiography that serves little purpose with no fresh perspective.


QuickView: Mank (2020)

“This is a business where the buyer gets nothing for his money but a memory. What he bought still belongs to the man who sold it. That’s the real magic of the movies.”

Louis B. Mayer

With the freedom afforded by Netflix, Fincher explores 1930s Hollywood by painstakingly creating a black and white film that feels as though it might have been unearthed from that era. It is something of a niche endeavour but the results are remarkable. Structurally, it is less convoluted than it first appears, using the screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz’s work on the screenplay for Citizen Kane as a vehicle for his reminiscing through a series of flashbacks about his experiences with the Hollywood figures who inspired the story. Gary Oldman’s larger than life characters have always been entertaining, but the nuanced roles he has chosen of late reveal his true depth as an actor — as Mank he is self-confident and witty but not always likeable, with alcoholism and a need to sound smart often eroding any self-restraint. Fincher’s focus is less on how Citizen Kane was written than the squalid nature of Hollywood as seen through Mank’s disillusioned eyes, with executives performing as much as actors to manipulate others, and the lies of the silver screen feeding into politics. What holds the film back is (in common with much of Fincher’s work) a lack of emotional weight to any of Mank’s relationships, all of which seem considered rather than felt, more in character for Welles than the erratic Mankiewicz.


QuickView: Tau (2018)

“They gave me life, but I did the rest. I created me. You understand? We grow up, and we become our own creators.”


Despite pretensions toward cerebral sci-fi in the vein of Ex Machina, this is really a derivative trapped woman thriller that is elevated only by some impressive production design. The conceit is that Julie’s captor is using an AI-controlled house to imprison her, allowing her to develop a relationship with the AI rather than directly with her captor. Although Tau raises a few interesting ideas about controlling AI and limiting its access to information, it fails to capitalise on these. That the science fiction is more about aesthetic than intellect is clearest from the way deletion of memories is used as a method of “punishing” the AI but inexplicably manifests as inflicting pain.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

director: Alfonso Cuarón
starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis
running time: 141 mins
rating: PG

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanWith a new director at the helm, the third installment of the Harry Potter series is adapted from the longest of the books thus far, and yet has the shortest running time. These changes result in a more streamlined movie that marks a serious step up as the boy wizard franchise graduates from kids’ fare to serious film.

Sirius Black [Gary Oldman] has escaped from Azkaban Prison and is headed for Hogwarts. Harry [Daniel Radcliffe] soon discovers that Black was a close friend of his murdered parents, and is believed to be the one who betrayed them to Lord Voldemort. With Hogwarts school under guard by Azkaban’s Dementors, Harry, Ron [Rupert Grint] and Hermione [Emma Watson] must unravel the mystery of Sirius Black as Harry’s life appears to be in grave danger…

People will say that under Cuarón this is the darkest of the three movies. While this is true, the change is also due to the stylistic change in tone of the third book, making it a good time for a directorial switch. While Cuarón is now known for his recent darkly humourous road-trip movie, Y Tu Mama Tambien, he is no stranger to children’s cinema, having directed the 1995 remake of A Little Princess. Here he weaves together atmosphere from both to create a more mature product than the previous two installments. His greatest skill is in crafting a far more realistic world by keeping the camera moving and circling around characters and sets, where Chris Columbus tended to keep it still. Using a palette of less vivid colours and shooting his leads in casual clothes rather than the familiar school robes creates a stage that is closer to reality, and somehow more disconcertingly weird as a result. Atmospherically, he is spot on.

Sirius Black has escaped from AzkabanThe performances of the main cast of child actors has improved considerably. Their maturing performances make their emotions far more believable and their dialogue does not seem as strained as before. The same cannot be said, however, of some of the smaller roles, which now stand out more strongly as a result. Watching Oldman and Thewlis (as new teacher Professor Lupin) are a delight to watch. The franchise’s strength lies to no small degree in its ability to attract such strong talent, and they are able to make average dialogue flow with flair. My only gripe regarding Lupin is really with Rowling’s writing. I just wish she had been a little less pretentiously self-indulgent in naming him, for it took me preceisely two-and-a-half seconds from his introduction to guess his true nature (having not read the book). But this is not, however, a fault of the film. Michael Gambon steps in as headmaster Dumbledore, replacing the the late Richard Harris so deftly that those unaware of the change may well miss it. Finally, this film’s extended sequences with divination Professor Trelawney [Emma Thompson] were undoubtedly energetic but for the most part served only to irritate me.

Professor Snape tries to protect the childrenAzkaban is blessed with wonderful special effects which are also integrated with more subtlety than before. The most impressive is undoubtedly the Hippogriff, a fusion of horse and eagle, which is lifelike not only in its feathered appearance, but also in its fluid movements which are both equine and birdlike in equal measures. Beyond this, it also conveys thought and emotion through its facial expressions and stance. The Dementors are very reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings‘ Ringwraiths, but are a creepy presence throughout. Especially well captured by Cuarón is the visual interpretation of their ability to drain happiness from their victims.

Although the pacing is generally tight, it does still lull occassionally, making Azkaban still feel overlong like its predecessors. The time-jumping is handled well, if in somewhat routine fashion, but serves well bearing in mind that younger viewers must be able to follow it easily, and it should provide some discussion for them afterwards. Character development is limited here, with little other than a tentative, if predictable, start to a possible romance between Hermione and Ron. It should be noted that both Harry and Hermione do come across as much stronger characters in this film, especially in Hermione’s confrontation with Draco. The problem is that Draco now seems so weak that it’s difficult find him intimidating at all, let alone understand why others would follow his lead.

Still suffering from a few flaws of its predecessors, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban marks a real progression for the series, and highlights the difference that can be achieved through the interpretation of a new director. Maturing performances from its equally maturing young cast aid the final result, making it far and away the best yet, and promising more enjoyable fun in the coming films.

rating: 3.5/4

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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