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Release Date: 12/09/22
Genre: Drama/Romance

Studio: Searchlight Pictures

"A drama about the power of human connection during turbulent times, set in an English coastal town in the early 1980s." 


Sam Mendes' latest film Empire of Light seems to continue the director's hit-and-miss pattern as of late. Where Skyfall felt like a reinvigoration for the Craig Bond era, its follow-up Spectre felt like two steps back. Years later, Mendes would deliver the intense and beautifully shot WWI film 1917, only to now follow it with Empire of Light. Mendes’ 2022 offering struggles to be a cohesive film, even if it's beautifully shot with a gutting, fierce performance from its star Olivia Colman. Its story revolves around a small group of employees of a local theater in a coastal town located in England that doesn't entirely work as a whole and its message only scratches the surface. 


One of the most frustrating aspects of this film is its script. The movie tries to tackle and comment, subtly and not so subtly, on several different events that transpire within and outside of the movie theater. The story mainly centers around characters, Hilary (Olivia Colman) and Stephen (Michael Ward) as their relationship blossoms. When Empire of Light is most in focus is the section of the film dedicated to building that relationship between the two. When the focus is pulled from that, the film heads into aimless territory. This is largely due to the additional subplots it forces into its overarching narrative. With a runtime of 1 hour and 59 minutes, the film's pacing becomes strained from the amount of time spent with these nominal at best subplots, depriving Empire of Light of being of merit.


Although Mendes' latest effort is lackluster compared to some of his notable previous works, there are virtues contained within Empire of Light. The film's strengths have to do some pretty heavy lifting where the script and pacing lack. Luckily for Mendes, he brought an A+ team to help. Olivia Colman continues a long streak of offering a commanding force of a performance and remains to be an exponential benefit to whatever project she's associated with. Michael Ward and Colman have good chemistry together in their scenes; Ward gives a great performance that proves he can hold his own with the best. Colin Firth is capable for the amount of time he's on screen but his role as Donald, the manager of the theater where Hilary and Stephen work, doesn't give the actor much to work with. The result is a rather vanilla performance, which is unfortunate for the actor after giving one of the best performances of 2022 in HBO's The Staircase. Veteran DP, Roger Deakins’ cinematography is gorgeous, with the two-time Oscar winner's outstanding work being an absolute pleasure to experience and admire. With Empire of Light, he demonstrates the magic and beauty cinema can provide; an important characteristic for a movie that is about the magical, powerful, nature of film. As well as how it can bring people together, inspire, and immerse you in its world, all of which is delivered from the projector light to the big screen. 

Mendes and Deakins' third team-up, unfortunately, fails to reach the bar that Empire of Light sets for itself in this regard. Impressive performances and cinematography aside, Sam Mendes' Empire of Light is simply the latest misfire from the talented filmmaker. 

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