Quick Reviews: Darkest Hour and The Shape of Water

[This post contains spoilers in the form of CWs for The Shape of Water – They’re in the very last paragraph if you wish to avoid them.]

Darkest Hour

I have no idea what twists of the tides of fates (or whose design) brought this film out in the same year as Dunkirk. I think it’s unfortunate for this film, though. Where Dunkirk took a well-known story and told it in a new way, bringing both the personal implications and the larger situation into focus, Darkest Hour was just kind of fine.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Gary Oldman played a freaking fantastic Churchill. It was very clear to me he put heart, soul and work into the role. But the story wasn’t told through any interesting framework. We weren’t getting any new perspective on it. The things the film chose to highlight were pretty predictable. It was a solid biopic, but I’d much rather have seen either a story I know less (maybe some later parts of Churchill in the war, or his political fall instead of the rise) or seen the story through someone else’s eyes.

I feel as though a very good candidate for re-centering the film would’ve been Churchill’s wife, Clementine Churchill, played by Kristen Scott Thomas. I feel as though the movie gave her short shrift. I would’ve loved to see more of her perspective and her story.

The framing character was, instead, Elizabeth Layton, Churchill’s secretary (played by Lily James). But we learned almost nothing about her except in relation to Churchill himself. The scraps we’re given of her past are not enough to root her solidly in the emotional reality of the film.

The film was overall well put together, but even though I was laughing, crying and being inspired at the right times, it feels bland in my memory.

I predict it’ll make it firmly into the rounds of movies teachers show the day before a holiday and will make no other particular dent on film history.

The Shape of Water

The first disclaimer is that I’m generally a Guillermo del Toro fan. I haven’t unreservedly loved every movie of his that I’ve seen, but I am frequently in love with something about them – the look, the mood, the themes, the surreality…

The Shape of Water I loved. It was a beautiful story compellingly told. The choices made in color palette and repeated imagery were striking and appropriate. The themes were resonant. I suspect when I watch it again, I’ll find more and more hidden things thrumming through it. This is del Toro at his best, I think.

Unlike some other films that are in the ‘best of del Toro’ category (Pan’s Labyrinth) this film was mostly heartwarming and lovely. (Not to say there aren’t awful scary danger parts. There are.) The characters are broad and rich and believable, even though the world they live in isn’t, particularly. Thus the 50s b-movie-style science fiction elements are rooted in deep and genuine emotion and elevated to something greater than one might expect.

It’s a grand romance in a strangely traditional Hollywood style, in spite of its scifi flavor.

I really, really enjoyed it. This is the stuff that keeps me coming back to del Toro’s films even after a few that aren’t so captivating. I know when he strikes it right, it resonates so deeply and beautifully I can feel it in my gut.

I will warn that one pet does die in the film. Also, there is a scene of sexual harassment. Just for y’all’s info.