Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Empire of Light - Review


Following the success of his last outing amidst the backdrop of World War I in 1917, Sam Mendes once again looks to the past for his next film, Empire of Light. Gone is the horror and annihilation of war, replaced with a smaller, humbler tale of human connection. It’s a far more delicate and lovely outing, but its overstuffed narrative and abundance of themes leave a lot to be desired. 

In an English seaside town, an unlikely romance develops in the shadow of a beautiful old cinema between the melancholic Hilary (Olivia Colman) and the kind Stephen (Michael Ward). The two are isolated amongst the picturesque town, but find solace in each other’s affections. 

If one were to develop a computer algorithm to spit out awards friendly plot lines, this film could probably serve as the base code. Mendes also handles writing duties here, and the screenplay is jam packed with cliches and random elements that never turn into a cohesive film. If the saying “less is more” truly is accurate, Mendes clearly stands vehemently opposed to it, opting to throw everything at the wall, including a little bit of a nostalgic love letter to movies, hoping that the results will garner Academy love once more.

But the reality is far less gratifying, however, it’s still not all bad. The performances in particular are still fairly solid. Michael Ward is phenomenal, and his chemistry with Colman is the often the best part of the film. And then you get the always extraordinary, can do no wrong, Olivia Colman. She carries the film on her back, turning even some of the worst elements of the script into something commendable through her incredible charm and charisma. 

It should also be said that it’s still a gorgeous film despite its narrative shortcomings. The score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is beautiful, a sweeping score that’s almost too good for this film. And of course, Roger Deakins brings his A-game to shooting this as well. But neither one can elevate it beyond the middling effort of its story and direction. 

The efforts of everyone behind this film are worthy of admiration, but even the best intentions can go awry. The artistry is there, the performances are sound, but the screenplay forces all the good to fall away, and whats left is nothing more than another average film destined for an episode of “This Had Oscar Buzz". 

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