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News Blast - 'Empire of Light' Review
The Newest Sam Mendes Film Is a Mess
I’m usually hit or miss on Sam Mendes. Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road, Skyfall? Love em’. Give me more. American Beauty, Away We Go, Spectre, 1917? Better luck next time.
I’m not totally sure what happens when Mendes doesn’t hit for me. The films I don’t like from him are each vastly different, with different ailments for their respective illness. But when he misses, damn, does he miss. It’s why I felt so uneasy going into his latest film, Empire of Light, starring Olivia Colman and Michael Ward.
When I first watched it at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), the film felt interminable. I kept waiting for it to improve, for the heartbeat of the narrative to be revealed, and then the credits rolled. The film was over. Had I missed something? Well, I gave Mendes’ vision a second watch and reviewed it for Mashable. And the short answer is “no.”
Here’s an except from the review:
“Blues Brothers is playing on Screen 7. The halogen lights illuminate the winsome, amber-smeared walls. The resplendent theater stirs once more as the popcorn sits and the candy beckons. This house of dream’s primary acolyte, a melancholic, forceful woman, is preparing this hallowed space for the devotees, who come to be bewitched by its splendor. These are tranquil images that open a film concerned with the graceful importance of the cinema as a center for community and art. And yet, the power of the theatrical experience has rarely felt as soporific as in writer/director Sam Mendes’ indelicate hands in Empire of Light, a contrived, politically trite exercise.
Set in 1980, the filmmaker positions the cinema as a magical, fantastical place where misfits go to hide. The duty manager of Empire of Light, the titular resplendent movie palace, is Hilary Small (Olivia Colman). As she works at the theater day and night with nary a day off, her cheery countenance hides the deep fissures in her mental health. There are others there, a lightly sketched cadre of oddballs, including an idiosyncratic projectionist played by Toby Jones and a philandering manager portrayed with greasy gusto by Colin Firth. Dampened by her daily lithium medication, Hilary merely drifts through this milieu rather than feeling the community it offers. That is, until a new, dashing employee named Stephen (Micheal Ward), who would be studying architecture if he could afford to go to a four-year institution, arrives at the theater.”
The full review can be read, HERE.