Prior to its release , The Empire of Light was literally sold as a love letter to the slowly decaying tropics of British cinema. However, viewers may scratch their heads or more importantly yawn in anticipation of the film's celebration.
Like director Sam Mendes' work with cinematographer Roger Deakins, this film is one of the most elaborately crafted and artful pictures you'll see on screen this year or any other. Throughout his career, Deakins has honed his artwork to such an extent that he has learned to create incredible and stunning images with ease. Unlike many films made today, there is not a single shot in Empire of Light that is visually criticized or questioned.
The same can't be said for the screenplay that Mendes wrote himself. The 113-minute film packs in a lot of ideas, but none of them make much of an impression. Even the cinematic setting, which was the focus of the film's marketing campaign, looks well done. If you think Empire of the Light isn't a cinematic celebration, that's because it's not. But the fact is that it is nothing else.
The film starts off well enough as Hilary Small (Olivia Coleman) opens a movie theater on the beach, where she works another day's work. Over the opening minutes , "Empire of the Light" gradually reveals more about Coleman's theater manager, including his daily bouts of euphoria, his prescription pills, and his sexual relationship with his boss, Mr. Ellis (Colin Firth ), which Hilary suggests; accepts his sexual advances when they are alone in his office. In other words, Hilary's life is far from happy when the Empire of Light begins.
Her days become more interesting when she finds herself in an unlikely relationship with Steven (Michael Ward), a tight-knit movie clerk. Her relationship with Steven brings a new sense of passion into Hilary's life, but her belief that all she needs to fix her problems is a little love sends Coleman's desperate character on an inevitable path towards the tragedy. The journey she and Steven embark on together is filled with heartbreaking twists and surprising discoveries, but ultimately has nothing to do with the theater they work at.
This fact makes Empire of Light seem like a children's story with little merit, as does the filmmaking process, much of which is narrated by a projectionist named Norman (Toby Jones). While the film's inability to effectively integrate its many cinematic visions into its story is far from the only problem, Empire of the Light feels more glaringly disjointed and disjointed. While the film explores some truly exciting ideas and moments, it's impossible to shake the feeling that Empire of Light is made up of three separate films that collide hugely.
It doesn't help that the central relationship between Stephen and Hilary that develops in "Empire of Light" is not only unpleasant, but superficial and subtle. Among the film's many flaws is the moment in which Stephen, a young black man faced with constant discrimination , literally tells Hilary about the spread of racism in British society in the 1980s. Like many movies, Empire of the Light doesn't address the racism that the central person of color faces without feeling the need to physically harm them.
The Empire of Light's attempts to solve the problems facing Hilary and Steven are especially disappointing given Coleman and Ward's tenacity and determination. Coleman, for his part, brings the same ferocity and quiet heart to his performance that he has seen in several previous films such as The Beloved and Gone Girl . Ward, on the other hand, gives one of the best performances of the year as Steven, whose curiosity and kindness make him the most interesting and lively person featured in the Realm of Light.
Coleman and Ward's acting and Deakins' dependable and charming cinematography give a lot to Empire of Light . However, their input isn't enough to detract from the extremely poor pacing and often galling script of the film. In 1917 he produced an excellent war film, which is now regarded as one of his most directed films. Mendes returned to historical drama without saying anything of value on any topic, including powerhouse movies. Life change and enrichment. This is a cinematic love letter that never finds the right words.
Empire of Light is in theaters now.