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Quick Review: Empire Of Light
Film. An Illusion Of Life.
The following is my review for the film Empire Of Light. A reminder, you can click this link to see how I score films when I review them.
A love story set in and around an old cinema, on the South Coast of England in the eighties.
While the film won’t be available to the general public until December, currently doing the festival run, I was privileged enough to be invited by Searchlight Pictures to a private press screening for Empire Of Light. The latest film from director Sam Mendes (Who also wrote the screenplay) and starring such names as Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, and an up-and-comer in Michael Ward. Featuring cinematography from none other than Roger Deakins himself and scored by Trent Rezner and Atticus Ross.
From a technical standpoint in movie-making, this film hits all the right notes for me. Mendes’ direction is great as always, the cinematography is gorgeous and highlights some stunning visuals, the score is amazing and easily a contender for among the best of the year, and the performances are all well done and I wouldn’t be surprised if Olivia Colman received yet another Academy acting nomination for her role here. I think this a well made movie.
The problem the film faces is its screenplay. Like Amsterdam before it, it gets in the way of what could have been a much better film that could have aspired to something great. But the frustrating part is that where that aforementioned film has that issue through its entire runtime, this has that issue pop up in the second half.
The first half had me invested in the characters and the sweet romance that was blossoming between Colman’s Hillary and Ward’s Stephen. I was loving the workplace environment and the way it captured a small movie theatre in the early eighties and how it was run. Firth was being set up as an interesting antagonist.
Then half-way through the movie suddenly decides it wants to tackle issue after issue after issue, taking in so much water that it unnecessarily bloats itself. Its almost like Mendes was trying to hit every checklist of what the Academy are suckers for rather than focus on letting the story speak for itself. This attempts to look at racism, ageism, misogyny, sexual harassment, love affairs, love triangles, and even mental health while still attempting to be the “love blossoming amongst the magic of cinema” movie it bills itself as. Resulting in a movie that started simple and ends up trying to be too many things at once.
Coming out of my screening I was hearing and sensing very mixed reactions which are in line with what I’ve seen from other peers of mine in the film critic arena. That second half of that screenplay is the major culprit. I can see how this movie doesn’t work for everyone.
That being said I still generally liked the movie, I found it more enjoyable than other blatant Oscars-bait, and while I’m in no hurry to re-watch it, I didn’t dislike this at all. But given there was a point when this was my most anticipated awards season movie of the year, I also felt underwhelmed. I was left frustrated at how much Mendes let his script hurt the movie. I really wonder what kind of magic this could have performed had it stuck to the cute, simple love story it started off as.