Film Review – Empire of Light (2022)

Title – Empire of Light (2022) 

Director – Sam Mendes (American Beauty) 

Cast – Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth, Toby Jones

Plot – In a small English coastal village in the early 1980’s, local cinema workers Hilary (Colman) and Stephen (Ward) strike up a relationship surrounded by the power of film and the turbulent climate of Britain at the time. 

“All these people. I’m the only one who knows the truth”

Review by Eddie on 24/02/2022

Before Empire of Light, his newest film that came and disappeared in the blink of an eye towards the latter stages of the 2022 calendar year, British director Sam Mendes last feature was the impeccably crafted and taught World War 1 thriller 1917, a box office and critical success that is virtually the polar opposite to his latest misfire. 

One of the prettiest but messiest films I can recall seeing, led by a confusing narrative that has multiple goals and angles that never combine the way you would hope for, Mendes no doubt heartfelt but coldly delivered drama is at all times a love letter to the power of cinema (another 2022 movie from esteemed Hollywood directors pouring out their love of their artform), an exploration of England in the 1980’s, racial vilification, a love story between two lost souls and most unnervingly an expose of mental illness but despite moments throughout, nothing is allowed too truly shine or grow across Empire’s two hour runtime. 

Collaborating with his frequent right hand man Roger Deakins (in yet another Oscar nominated turn as the films cinematographer) and esteemed Nine Inch Nails band members turned composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, there’s a lot of prestige involved in Mendes affair behind the camera and in front of it with UK stalwarts Olivia Colman, Colin Firth and Toby Jones all playing key roles in Empire’s ensemble also but even these talented cast and crew members can’t seem to come to terms with what Empire is desiring too be as it heads along its way to an outcome that appears to have three or four different endings in mind. 

To be fair to the film, things start off relatively positive with Colman always a welcome sight on screen and in the initial stages her sad and lonely Hilary looks set to provide the talented actress another memorable lead role but Hilary is an unforgiving character that is hard to warm too, a fact elevated by the appearance of a miscast Micheal Ward as new cinema worker Stephen, who in his biggest major role yet fails to bring the magic needed to ensure Hilary and Stephen’s odd and irksome romance/friendship is something special or the power needed to make Mendes tacked on racial subplots work either. 

Full of frustratingly bland elements and mistimed and misguided components, especially in a scripting sense which is hard to believe considering Mendes is responsible for overseeing such memorable features as American Beauty, Revolutionary Road and Road to Perdition, Empire is one of 2022’s most surprisingly unspectacular features that may showcase brief moments of genius, but for the most part feels like a huge waste of time, talent and possibility. 

Final Say – 

A should’ve been contender, Empire of Light is unable to grasp what it is and what it is wanting to say, making it a frustratingly cold movie watching experience that may look prestigious and grand but is mostly just bland. 

2 packets of Maltesers out of 5 

3 responses to “Film Review – Empire of Light (2022)

  1. Too bad, you’ve destroyed in your review the best wishes I made for this film. It could have been another high time of emotion after “the fabelmans”. It will be on screen soon in here. Maybe I’ll try after all.

    • A very disappointing effort considering the talent, it’s a pretty film but all over the place narratively and it’s an emotionally cold experience bar a few brief moments.

  2. Pingback: The Movie Guys – 2023 Oscar Predictions | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

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