Empire of Light (2022)

Empire of Light (2022)

Movie Details

Movie: Empire of Light (2022)
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth
Distributed by: Searchlight Pictures
Box office: $11.4 million
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Edited by: Lee SmithGenre: Romance/Drama
Release date: 9 December 2022
IMDB: 6.6/10
Language: English
Runtime: 1 Hour 59 Minutes


Empire of Light (2022)


For so long you try to avoid all those Oscar baits, until finally, due to the delayed premiere on Disney+ and the absence of more interesting material in the cinema, one ends up on your table. But the following lines will not be about how Sam Mendes, in collaboration with Roger Deakins and Olivia Colman, failed to win the favor of academics, but about how he surprisingly managed to win mine.

Empire of Light tells a fairly simple and, at least initially, not very engaging story about an elderly lady (Colman) working in the once-famous Empire cinema on the outskirts of a small British coastal town during the Thatcher era of the 1980s. In addition to the protagonist Hilary, we also get to know the rest of the lovely, if a little lost, cinema attendants, who are headed by an arrogant manager with the face of Colin Firth. The plot then begins to move forward with the arrival of a new leaf-picker, Stephen, who, due to his skin color, stands out quite a bit in this period, around which an entire aspect of the plot subsequently revolves.

I should probably say right off the bat that I don’t believe Sam Mendes is capable of making a bad movie. He can make a movie that a lot of people won’t like – and the Bond film Specter is still a good example of that. I then saw, for example, Emergency Exit, which was a big disappointment for me. Even so, I wouldn’t be able to say that he was downright bad.

Something similar is happening here as well, when Realm of Light, at least in the beginning, is unable to sell what it is going to be about. Is it romance? Historical or even political drama? Or perhaps a psychological thriller? Hilary’s character, who has suspected short-circuits several times during the film and sometimes looks for lithium tablets at home, smells all of the above for the first half of the film, but if the viewer is not prepared for this distraction and the slow discovery of the film’s point, they can simply state, that the film is ultimately not about anything because later narratives simply never capture it. At the same time, the opposite is true here.

While the film with the traditionally amazing camera of Roger Deakins (the guy has no competition…) slowly swings from one seemingly insignificant interaction to another, Mendes’ direction slowly but surely begins to hook you not only with his refined work with melancholy but above all with the story of an unconventional a pair of people from seemingly opposite ends of the world who, despite everything, find a way to each other and manage to become closer than they realize at the beginning.

The relationship between Hilary and Stephen is ultimately the center of everything here, to which other motifs and characters are then attached, so that this results in a rather internal, surprisingly erotically charged, and later complicated mosaic of human destinies, complicated by the psychological problems of the main character, in which only the already mentioned main trio of creators do not excel (although the young Michael Ward ably seconded the fantastic Colman), but above all also the musical duo Ross and Reznor, whose soundtrack here once again brilliantly underlines every scene and the emotions that arise from it. Otherwise, Toby Jones also has a great small role here. And although this time we are not witnessing such impressive sequences as in 1917 or Skyfall, one particular scene from the second half of the film is at least equal to them in terms of intensity.

However, it’s fair to say that if you watch movies with a natural dose of cynicism, it’s easy to find plenty of things to criticize about Empire of Light. From the dialogues with secondary characters, which are perhaps too tailored to the harrowing reality of the entire film, through the first-person efforts to tell the simple truth in a complex way, that at the core we all long for the same thing – not to be alone, to a certain monotony of the narrative, when Mendes seems to he didn’t want to push even in the most tense moments, forcing the audience to look for emotions within themselves, rather than what was happening on the screen (or TV) in front of them.

Which, paradoxically, is perhaps the biggest reason why the film affected me so much. If you are at least somewhat familiar with certain parts of the film, it is much easier to be carried away by it. And I was simply not ready for something like that.

Play the trailerIn this specific respect, Empire of Light stands out like few Oscar-winning dramas of recent years because identifying with the characters and the love they experience will be an order of magnitude easier for many people than, for example, connecting with such an elite conductor or women from an isolated religious sect.

In any case, Mendes won’t win many audience points with this film, and if you have no idea what I’m talking about in the last two paragraphs, feel free to deduct a point from the rating here. After all, I would also much rather see this and other creators like him on more attractive subjects than the Fabelmans or Bardo, but it’s still nice that these superb filmmakers manage to get under your skin with films that you simply don’t expect. That is if you have a clique like me.

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