Review of reviews: Film
Directed by Joe Wright (PG-13)
Winston Churchill confronts the Nazi threat.
Winston Churchill has been portrayed by more than a few great performers of the past, but Gary Oldman’s Churchill “seems to go beyond acting into a sort of conjuring act,” said Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. In a film that’s otherwise “too painterly and self-aware,” Oldman simply is Churchill—“not only in the look but also the mischievous wit, the twinkle in the eye, and the crippling self-doubt when he most needed to project confidence.” The dark hour of the title is May 1940, a moment when Adolf Hitler’s army was blitzing through Europe and Great Britain turned to Churchill as its new prime minister. Given all the backroom debates, the movie is lucky to have the services of “some exceedingly witty actors,” said Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune. A glowering Ronald Pickup plays chief appeaser Neville Chamberlain, while Kristin Scott Thomas, though marginalized, creates a memorable Clementine Churchill. In the invented scene in which her husband slips into the London Underground and communes with constituents, Darkest Hour effects “a sentimentality even Dickens might have winced at,” said Ty Burr in The Boston Globe. Still, it’s “good, glib entertainment,” elevated even then by Oldman’s performance.
Directed by Steven Spielberg (PG-13)
An underdog newspaper stands up to the president.
Think of Steven Spielberg’s new Washington, D.C., period drama as “journalism porn of the highest order,” said Sara Stewart in the New York Post. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks co-star as Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee, who, as publisher and editor of The Washington Post in 1971, had to decide whether to risk the newspaper, and even prison, to publish the Pentagon Papers, a mammoth classified study of the Vietnam War that revealed the lies of four presidents. In Spielberg’s hands, “even a scene of Post staffers sifting through thousands of pages become riveting,” but it’s Streep who “knocks it out of the freaking park.” Her “genius for nuance,” said Peter Rainer in CSMonitor.com, “continually undercuts the movie’s grandstanding.” Graham, as heir to her family’s paper, was surrounded by men who doubted her, and Streep goes “soul deep” to make us believe in her hesitation and ultimate valor in standing up to White House threats. In the end, this “finely crafted but highly conventional” newsroom drama doesn’t quite reach the same tier as Spotlight and All the President’s Men, said Christopher Orr in The Atlantic. Even at its most self-congratulatory, though, “it’s a fine, enjoyable ride.”
Directed by Paul King (PG)
London’s favorite bear goes to prison.
Paddington Bear’s second big-screen adventure turns out to be as good as the first: “tremendously sweet-natured, unassuming, and above all funny,” said Peter Bradshaw in TheGuardian.com. Paddington is once again an animated bear in a live-action London, but this time, Hugh Grant has joined the cast as an “outrageously scene-stealing” villain who frames Paddington for stealing an antique pop-up book. Even when Paddington lands behind bars, the movie sustains the light tone of its source books, with humor that has “the citrus tang of top-quality marmalade.” In prison, Paddington redecorates, befriends all the other inmates, and plots escape, said Tim Robey in The Telegraph (U.K.). The slapstick that ensues proves that the “crackpot inspiration” that fueled the first movie was no fluke. Starting with its colorful costumes, “this is a work of art built up from thousands of tiny, thoughtful details,” said Leslie Felperin in The Hollywood Reporter. Better yet, it delivers a convincing lesson about the value of looking for the good in everyone. “Paddington 2 won’t save the world, sadly, but its existence makes everything just that tiny bit more, well, bearable.”