Video Verdict: ‘The Iron Lady,’ ‘The Darkest Hour’

Meryl Streep, right, plays former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Jim Broadbent plays her husband, Denis Thatcher, in “The Iron Lady.” Streep won a best actress Academy Award for the role.

This week’s home video releases are led by a political drama that helped actress Meryl Streep win her third Academy Award.

The Iron Lady

3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for some violent images and brief nudity
Anchor Bay
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

With all the great British actresses available today, turning to an American for a portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher seems almost blasphemous. But when that American is Meryl Streep, it’s difficult to argue with the choice or result.

Streep won her third Academy Award (her second for best actress) for portraying Thatcher, and “Iron Lady” director Phyllida Lloyd has stated that the role required someone of Streep’s international stature. There is no question that Streep’s portrayal of the controversial conservative politician is remarkable. The film looks at Thatcher in varying stages of her career, with Streep portraying all but the youngest years, and her physical and vocal transformation is one of the most impressive in cinema history.

Lloyd and screenwriter Abi Morgan (“Shame”) chose to tell Thatcher’s story by introducing the prime minister as a fragile 86-year-old reflecting on her past while struggling with dementia. This structure is effective in that it gives viewers a picture of three different versions of Thatcher. As a youth (played by Alexandra Roach) she is driven and excitable; at the peak of her career, she is tough and inflexible; and as an elderly woman, she struggles with the knowledge that her once-powerful mind is failing.

Streep receives solid supporting work in the film, especially from Jim Broadbent. He plays Thatcher’s husband, Denis, both in flashback and imaginary encounters spurred by dementia.

Like many political figures, Thatcher faced her share of controversy, and the film doesn’t shy from this. Lloyd shines a light on key moments of Thatcher’s career, including her union-busting efforts, an assassination attempt by the Irish Republican Army and the Falklands War.

As wondrous as the film’s performances are, the movie itself has flat moments, in part because it covers so much ground so quickly. Much screen time is devoted to Thatcher’s relationship with her husband, but the two are only rarely shown as anything more than chummy. What’s more, Thatcher’s political highlights are touched on so rapidly that viewers get little opportunity to see the emotional toll her decision making takes. These weaknesses are surmountable, but they prevent “The Iron Lady” from becoming the masterpiece it might have been.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several features on the making of the film.

The Darkest Hour

2 stars
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some language
Summit Entertainment
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

“The Darkest Hour” is the latest in a string of recent space-invasion flicks including “Battle: Los Angeles,” “Skyline” and “Cowboys & Aliens.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t add anything new to the genre.

The movie is set in the present and centers on Ben (Max Minghella) and Sean (Emile Hirsch), American software developers who travel to Moscow to sell their social networking business. When the deal goes south, they drown their sorrows at a local club until strange, alien life forms fall from the sky and begin killing everyone in sight.

Ben and Sean go into hiding with a few other club patrons, including Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor), American women they were chatting up before the invasion.

One thing that sets “The Darkest Hour” apart from other science-fiction films is that the aliens appear to be pure energy, making them mostly invisible to human eyes. The creatures do, however, give clues to their whereabouts, lighting street lamps and activating other electrical devices with their powerful auras. Once Ben, Sean and company figure this out, they use the knowledge to stay alive.

Director Chris Gorak had some nice opportunities with “The Darkest Hour,” most notably because the film centers on American protagonists in a foreign nation. It would have been fascinating to see the characters struggling not only with the aliens, but with their inability to decipher the Russian language. Alas, the few foreigners they come in contact with speak perfect English, removing this potentially interesting subplot altogether. Because of that, one wonders why screenwriter Jon Spaihts even chose Russia as a setting.

The plot essentially follows the humans as they run from the aliens, trying to learn as much as they can about them in the process. This is routine stuff, and Gorak’s open-ended finale is as dull as they come.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted and extended scenes and an audio commentary by Gorak.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Into the Abyss – A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life”: Werner Herzog documentary examining a 2001 triple homicide that led to the execution of Texas prisoner Michael Perry. The film considers both the murders and the death penalty, and it includes interviews with everyone from Perry to a state executioner.

“One Tree Hill” – The Complete Ninth and Final Season: Last 13 episodes of the well-liked CW drama centered on a group of characters living in a fictional North Carolina town. James Lafferty, Bethany Joy Galeotti, Sophia Bush, Austin Nichols and Robert Buckley star.

“Albert Nobbs”: This drama stars Glenn Close as a 19th century Irishwoman who pretends to be a man in order to make a living. Alas, she finds herself trapped by the false identity she has created. Close received a best actress Oscar nomination for the role. The film isn’t coming to DVD and Blu-ray until May 15, but it begins an exclusive two-week pay-per-view run April 10.

“A Streetcar Named Desire”: Blu-ray debut of director Elia Kazan’s Oscar-winning film adaptation of the Tennesee Williams play. Vivien Leigh stars as a Southern belle who moves in with her sister (Kim Hunter) and is plagued by the woman’s brutish husband (Marlon Brando).

“A Trip to the Moon” – Limited Edition: Flicker Alley is releasing a restored version of director George Melies’ 1902 silent movie about astronomers who go on an adventurous journey to the moon. Film historians are well acquainted with Melies, and mainstream audiences may be interested because he was depicted as a character in director Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.”

“Goodnight for Justice – The Measure of a Man”: Hallmark Channel movie starring Luke Perry as an old West judge who sets out to capture and prosecute a gang of bloodthirsty Wyoming thieves. Stefanie von Pfetten also stars.

— Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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