“Empire of Light”


Metacritic (6/10), Rotten Tomatoes (***), Letterboxd (3/5), Imdb.com (6/10)

Sometimes a movie has all the elements of greatness in place but somehow just can’t seem to pull all the pieces together. Such is the case with writer-director Sam Mendes’s latest offering, an unfocused mélange of story threads that seem haphazardly strung together in a 1980s period piece love story about the staff of a British resort town cinema infused with elements involving mental illness and growing racial violence and intolerance at the time. Sound like a mishmash of unrelated storylines? You bet, and the picture probably comes off better than it should, given the strengths of Roger Deakins’s superb cinematography, Trent Reznor’s ethereal score, and the outstanding performances of its ensemble cast, most notably Olivia Colman, a virtual sure-bet for an Oscar nomination. As in other works, such as “Revolutionary Road” (2008), Mendes has a knack for getting the most out of his resources even when the material comes up short, a trick he successfully pulls off again here. It’s unfortunate, however, that this obvious lover of film couldn’t manage to combine these elements in a way here that matches the brilliance of his truly great works, such as “American Beauty” (1999), “Skyfall” (2012) and “1917” (2019). Had the script gone through another round of revisions, that might have been the case, given that the writing really proves to be the downfall of this offering. For all its strengths, however, “Empire of Light” nevertheless comes up a disappointing effort, one that, regrettably, doesn’t live up to the pre-release hype showered upon it.