STARRING: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max
Minghella, Rachael Taylor, Joel Kinnaman
2011, 89 Minutes, Directed by:
on Christmas Day with no press screenings and a lot of advertising – including
promotional screenings from which critics were barred – The Darkest Hour
fairly announced itself as a holiday turkey.
Instead, it’s further proof of
veteran screenwriter William Goldman’s famous dictum about Hollywood: “Nobody
The Darkest Hour turns
out to be a low rent version of Independence Day
(1996) set entirely in Moscow.
Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) are
two young Americans in Moscow to do a software deal only to find themselves
screwed over by Skyler (Joel Kinnaman) who has ripped off their idea and dares
them to do something about it.
That night Sean and Ben meet
two attractive American women, Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael
Taylor), at a Moscow nightspot where they run into Skyler as well. Suddenly the
lights go out and everyone goes outside to witness an unusual display of lights
in the sky. When one touches down near the crowd of club-goers, a police officer
tries to make contact with it and is instantly disintegrated.
"An action / chase film that doesn't feel dumbed down . . ."
What follows is in the style of
many alien invasion films, from War of the Worlds (1953)
to Battle: Los Angeles (2011). The aliens
wreak havoc, destroying building and slaughtering Earthlings, while our plucky
heroes try to survive and figure out a way to fight back. It’s not giving too
much away to note that not everyone we meet will make it to the end of the film.
The movie has two things going
for it. One is the conceit of the aliens. The ads make it seem as if they are
invisible which isn’t quite true. They are encased in energy fields which are
barely visible but reveal themselves when they pass anything electrical – like a
car or a streetlamp – which reacts to their presence. This plays out in
interesting and occasionally surprising ways so that even though this is
primarily an action/chase film it doesn’t feel dumbed down.
The second are the Moscow
locations. Unless you’re a student of modern Russian film you probably haven’t
seen a lot of Moscow in the movies, although the Russian horror films
Nightwatch and its sequel
Daywatch gave international audiences a taste of locations just waiting to
be exploited. This isn’t just showing the Kremlin and then going to the studio
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) but combining live action and CGI as
destruction tears across the city.
The young cast all have
substantial credits, and though none of them is likely to cite this movie as one
of their great performances, they do have sufficient craft and experience to
inhabit their roles so they are more than walking clichés. We want these
characters to survive and when some of them don’t it’s not like Blonde #3
getting speared by Jason in a Friday the 13th
movie. The actors take the material and run with it.
The Darkest Hour turns
out to be a solid science fiction action movie that delivers on its promise.
The nitwit at Summit
Entertainment who thought this was such a terrible film that critics should not
be allowed to see it until it opened on Christmas should go into another line of
work. He or she obviously knows nothing about movies.