Category Archives: Historical Drama



Director-Rob Reiner

Starring-Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Scott’s Review #890

Reviewed April 27, 2019

Grade: B-

LBJ (2017) provides small glimpses of historical interest with a biography about a United States President perhaps underrepresented in cinema history as compared to other presidents but the production never catches fire and falls flat with an overproduced film lacking bombast.

The film can easily be viewed once, never to be thought of again, nor providing the need for analysis or discussion.

Director Rob Reiner creates a glossy, mainstream Hollywood production with questionable casting choices and a muddled feel.

To its credit, the film gets off to a good start introducing the fateful day of November 22, 1963, into the story. As then-Vice President Johnson (LBJ), played by Woody Harrelson and wife Lady Bird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) deplane and embarks on a motorcade procession through downtown Dallas, Texas, dire events will follow.

As the violent assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) soon arrives the film portrays the initial foreshadowing well then backtracks to 1960 when the Democratic nominee was up for grabs with both JFK and Johnson in contention.

The film traverses back and forth from pre to post JFK assassination as LBJ took over the presidency amid the controversial Civil Rights Bill and a still shocked United States public.

A character study develops as the gruff and grizzled man takes center stage to lead the country into the future. The attempt is to show LBJ, the man, at his best and worst personally and professionally facing pressure from his cabinet.

Reiner portrays LBJ as complex, brooding, and vulgar, but also as a person whose heart is ultimately in the right place. A man we love to hate? Or hate to love?

From a historical drama perspective, and a genre that has many in the cinematic chambers, the film fails.

A powerful political drama is supposed to be compelling but LBJ just feels dull, run-of-the-mill, and extremely forgettable. Some examples of exceptional political film projects are Lincoln (2012), JFK (1991), and Vice (2018). Each has flare, flavor, and a twist or otherwise unusual story construction that LBJ glaringly lacks.

Simply put, the experience feels plain and unimpressive.

Having regrettably not seen the HBO film version entitled All the Way starring Bryan Cranston as LBJ, I cannot compare the two other than from word of mouth that Cranston gives the superior portrayal.

Based on trailers I would agree with the overall assessment. Harrelson’s version of LBJ is adequate if not sensational. His mannerisms President may be effective, but he does not resemble the man too well.

With a waxy, heavily made-up face, Harrelson the actor is unrecognizable and feels staged rather than authentic.

Jennifer Jason Leigh suffers the same fate as Harrelson in the important role of First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. The actress is successful at emulating the appropriate characteristics specifically facially but also appears too made up like a wax figure in a museum sprung to life.

As Harrelson and Jason Leigh daftly teeter from scene to scene the result is marginally comical but LBJ the film is not a comedy nor a satire, played instead for the heavy drama.

LBJ (2017) is of mild interest but limited as a successful film adaptation of an important figure in United States history. Glimpses of political education for those not alive to experience the tumultuous 1960’s are good but much more was expected from this film than was provided.

Better studies exist and hopefully will be created in the future than what adds up too little more than a snore-fest.

Darkest Hour-2017

Darkest Hour-2017

Director-Joe Wright

Starring-Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas

Scott’s Review #718

Reviewed January 24, 2018

Grade: A-

Darkest Hour is a British historical film that showcases an astounding portrayal of Winston Churchill that legendary actor Gary Oldman gives.

Certainly known for numerous other fine-acting performances in films such as the Harry Potter series, JFK, and Batman Begins, this performance easily transcends all of the others as he brings perfection to complex role-infusing humor, drama, and many idiosyncrasies of the storied historic figure.

Surely, Churchill is the best role of Oldman’s lengthy career.

Director, Joe Wright, famous for such classy European films as Pride and Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), and Anna Karenina (2012), traditionally offers rich, intelligent experiences with an upper-crust, often British theme, and fills his characters with wry humor and wit.

In the case of Darkest Hour, a film that belongs to Oldman by the way, Churchill is the master of gruff sarcasm and cantankerous charm.

During the tumultuous time of 1940,  with the barbaric grips of Nazi Germany settling upon both England and France (Allies in World War II), a disheveled England is frustrated with their current Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, for being weak. Chamberlain begrudgingly appoints Winston Churchill as his successor, amid limited support.

The film discusses Churchill’s early days in charge as the war and the Nazi presence loomed larger and larger- especially as the historic Dunkirk situation comes into fruition.

Darkest Hour as a film is of good quality- there exists a certain historic richness and the feeling of experiencing a film that is worthy and relevant. For those of us not in existence during the 1940s, the film will likely serve as an educational experience into the events of the day.

Certainly, hundreds of films have been made over time that has explored the events during World War II in fantastic detail, but this film is unique in that it not only provides a perspective of the Allied countries “back against the wall” situation but the ups and downs and pressures that Churchill, the man, faced.

Despite a few quick clips of Hitler and both very old black and white footage and newspaper headlines of the crazed leader, the focus is not on the enemy country no actor was used to play Hitler, rather, the focus is on Churchill and the decisions he made and the influences he was faced with.

Pressured to appease the militant German country and reach a “peaceful” deal, Churchill instead listened to the voices of the common, everyday, British people to reach his decision to fight the Germans and not back down.

Clever, and relevant in 2017 cinema, is the film’s spotlight on the famous Dunkirk situation, when British forces were trapped on the shores of Dunkirk, with German planes looming overhead.

Thanks in large part to Churchill and British and French civilian boats who aided in the rescue, many men were saved.

The 2017 film, aptly named Dunkirk, would make a wonderful companion piece to Darkest Hour in that the subject matters mirror one another.

Not surprisingly, both films received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture.

A great lesson I carried away from the film is with Churchill himself.

Sure, I knew that he was the Prime Minister of England during the 1940s and was instrumental in the events of the bloody war, but I knew little about the man himself.

Thanks to Wright and, of course, Oldman, the viewer will learn the good and bad characteristics of this man. A heavy drinker, commonly downing champagne with lunch and brandy the rest of the day, he was initially not well-liked, nor taken very seriously by British royalty.

With Churchill’s bubbling personality, Oldman is fantastic at filling the role with humor, frustration, and just the correct amount of empathy and concern.

Despite having a temper, we can tell that he has a love of country and pride for the people living there- that is why he is adamant about conquering the enemy. So we know he is a good man despite his temper tantrums.

Oldman also successfully embodies the mannerisms that this historical figure contained. Kristin Scott Thomas also gives a worthy performance, albeit in a small role, as the mature and graceful wife, who can both support and match wits with her husband.

Thanks to a brilliant acting performance by Gary Oldman, who takes on a difficult role that could easily be botched by lesser talent, he makes a film that could have been dull and flat, into a worthy watch to both learn something and be amazed at a truly great acting performance. Darkest Hour is a 2017 historical drama worth seeing.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Gary Oldman (won), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling (won), Best Costume Design

Bridge of Spies-2015

Bridge of Spies-2015

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #399


Reviewed April 28, 2016

Grade: B+

Tom Hanks teams with Stephen Spielberg once again in another A-list Hollywood film.

Like Saving Private Ryan, Bridge of Spies is in the historical vein. This time the Cold War is featured- it is 1957 when the film begins.

The camera work, the artwork, and the set decorations are second to none as the film looks and feels authentic. As interesting as the overall film is, and it felt like I was watching a well-made film, there was also something missing, which did not make it truly riveting and that is why it receives a B+ rating.

Still, with Spielberg and Hanks on board, you know you will get a quality film.

Hanks portrays James B. Donovan, a Brooklyn attorney specializing in insurance law, but a wiz at negotiation and experienced with the Nuremberg trials.

He is assigned to defend suspected spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) in what is assumed to be an open and shut case-his guilt is considered a given. Abel has been arrested by the F.B.I and is thought a Russian spy. They are willing to release him on the condition that he reveal Soviet contacts, but he refuses.

Meanwhile, an American pilot, Frances Powers, is captured in Soviet territory and taken hostage. To make matters more complicated, an American graduate student, Pryor, is trapped behind the Berlin wall in East Germany and not allowed by the Germans to leave. The pressure is on Donovan to not only defend Abel in the United States but to make a deal to return the three men to their respective countries.

Hanks, a great actor, is his typical stoic, capable self, and his portrayal reminds me of his role in Captain Phillips- calm, well-mannered- a clear yet quiet leader.

The role is not flashy in comparison to other legendary Hanks roles (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia). Certainly, the film centers around Hanks and is catered to his acting style- his character is always in the forefront.

In my opinion, Hanks never gives a bad performance and I admire him in almost any he gives.

Let’s discuss the role and the portrayal by Mark Rylance in his Oscar-winning role. Giving a very subdued, nuanced performance, he is good and low-key in what could have been an energetic, over-the-top performance if written that way, but I am not sure I would have handed him the golden statuette over a few of the other nominees in the 2015 Supporting Actor category.

Not that this is a criticism, but I am unsure if there is as much meat in this performance as would warrant an Academy Award.

Bridge of Spies is very detail-oriented and every set piece- from late 1950’s cars, clothing, hairstyles, and home furnishings is spot on.

The film was expensive to produce and no expense seems to have been spared.

The film travels from Brooklyn to the Soviet Union, to Germany, and gives off a patriotic, Americana flare, which is very true to life in the given time. There was such a sense of country and community. Nothing makes this more apparent than the distasteful glares and downright coldness and hatred displayed by many characters towards Donovan.

To counteract this, when Donovan is ultimately more the hero, he is revered and celebrated.

As great as the film looks, there is something slightly disconnecting about it. I was left wanting a bit more from a story perspective and feeling slightly disengaged throughout parts of it. I was never riveted or blown away despite realizing that I was watching a well-made film. This can oftentimes happen as the story is less compelling than the way the film looks and this is the case with Bridge of Spies.

After I finished watching I was left with the feeling that I did not ever really need to see the film again, in contrast to truly great films where one can watch over and over again.

A slight mention is that Bridge of Spies is a “guy’s film”. Amy Ryan, a great actress, does all she can with the only real female role in the film in that of Donovan’s dutiful, supportive wife-a a role written one-dimensionally hundreds of times.

It is a shame her character is not more fleshed out instead of the typical worried scenes or fretting for her husband to return home to his family- purely reactionary and not furthering the plot in any way.

In this sense, the film deserves criticism for being a bit too traditional.

Bridge of Spies is a very good effort, but certainly not a tremendous film. It is the type of film that I liked, but not loved.

Plot-driven rather than character-driven. Perhaps, due to the names Spielberg and Hanks on the marquee, I expected a bit more.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor-Mark Rylance (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design



Director Ava DuVernay

Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo

Scott’s Review #248


Reviewed June 19, 2015

Grade: A-

An Oscar-nominated factual feast, set in the mid-1960s during the Civil Rights movement, Selma (2014) is a re-telling of the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggles that black Americans endured during a tumultuous period in history.

The film includes dealings with then-President Lyndon B. Johnson and the famous and important 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march, which led to the signing of the pivotal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This film reminded me quite a bit of 2013’s The Butler in subject matter and style-ironic since Lee Daniels was slated to direct and instead signed on for The Butler.

Both feature a charismatic and intelligent black man struggling with racial matters.

Despite being an independent undertaking, it is glossy, polished, and reflective of the time. Both The Butler and Selma boast a huge cast, and historical political figures, in a tumultuous era in history.

Selma features a bevy of real-life figures from George Wallis to President Johnson to the obvious leader of the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., and his wife, Coretta Scott King, and the casting is very well thought out.

Tim Roth, David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, and Carmen Ejogo portray their roles professionally and passionately. None of the above received Oscar nominations and I am okay with that.

I did not feel that any were definite standouts from a crowded field of talent, though perhaps Ejogo could have been in the running with her understated though compelling performance.

The drama surrounding the lack of expected Oscar nominations is not shared by me. The truth is, the film was included in the Best Picture category and won Best Song.

While an emotional and compelling film, neither is it a masterpiece nor will change the art of cinema, though I must stress it is good.

I find Selma to be an important film- a look back on history and the shame and humiliation placed on blacks who attempted to obtain voting rights. A heartbreaking scene depicts a determined woman (played by Oprah Winfrey) being denied this right by a cold and racist authority figure as she is asked impossible and tricky questions to prove her patriotism, which of course, she cannot possibly answer correctly.

Yes, the film is directed by a black, female director (Ava DuVernay) and yes, one might argue that it has a black point of view. However, the film successfully sympathetically portrays several white characters and avoids the assumption that all white people were racist in this period.

Let’s face it- racism still exists, especially in the South, and in the 1960s even more so. I did not find the message in black people vs. white people’s terms, but rather as a humanistic struggle for rights.

And the struggles continue as the film makes abundantly clear in the message of the film.

While King was a life changer to the black people of the United States, his life was abruptly cut short in his prime. One wonders how much more good this man could have achieved.

The song “Glory” is an emotional, powerful number, especially during the marching and subsequent slaughter scenes highly emotional and effective.

And who will not become teary-eyed as the innocent marchers are beaten and treated like cattle, simply for taking a stand? One will gasp at the senseless bombing scene that rocks a building and takes four innocent little girls’ lives away with it.

Selma successfully transplanted me to a time before my time and made me appreciate and capture the positive and negative experiences of a race of people not long ago.

This film inspires and moves me and teaches me what a movement occurred in 1965.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Original Song-“Glory” (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Ava DuVernay, Best Male Lead-David Oyelowo, Best Supporting Female-Carmen Ejogo, Best Cinematography



Director Pablo Larrain

Starring Gael Garcia Bernal

Scott’s Review #119


Reviewed July 17, 2014

Grade: B

No is a 2012 Best Foreign Language film nominee that centers around a Chilean ad executive’s campaign to oust a powerful Chilean dictator (Pinochet) from power circa 1988.

The ad executive (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) struggles to create a powerful campaign to influence the media and the voters.

The movie looks very documentary-style and is visually interesting. One will experience firsthand how difficult it was to create a successful campaign amid the political unrest occurring in Chile during this time.

The fact that the film is based on a true story adds a level of interest.

While watching the film, I felt like it was genuinely 1988 and I felt transported back to that time, unlike many period films where sets simply look dressed up for the period.

A detraction of No (2012) was its painfully slow pace, which made it drag occasionally.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film

Lee Daniels’ The Butler-2013

Lee Daniels’ The Butler-2013

Director Lee Daniels

Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey

Scott’s Review #81


Reviewed June 30, 2014

Grade: A

Director, Lee Daniels, is a recent favorite of mine (Precious-2009, The Paperboy-2012) and his latest The Butler (2013) is an excellent, true story, undertaking.

While the trailer looked appealing, I was concerned that the film might be overwrought or have a Hollywood sappiness.

While it’s a Hollywood film, it is also a powerful, emotional experience.

The viewer is taken on a journey from 1926 through the current president from the viewpoint of White House butler Cecil Gaines (Whitaker), who serves several presidents and is privy to the goings-on in the White House.

He is played by Forest Whitaker and his boozy, troubled wife is played by Oprah Winfrey.

Both give tremendous performances.

The Butler is a political journey through time and I love the authenticity of each decade from the sets to the costumes to the hairstyles.

The casting of the Presidents is curious (Robin Williams as Eisenhower and John Cusack as Nixon), but works nonetheless.

The rivalry between Cecil Gaines and his rebellious son is quite interesting as the viewer sides with each individual at different times.

The film is more emotional than I anticipated and much of the audience was teary during scenes of heartbreak and triumph.

I feel The Butler (2013) is a must-see for everyone.