Empire of Light

Empire of Light ★★½

To Empire of Light's credit, I was more engaged in the story as it was playing out than I expected to be, but there's no denying it's a mess, and I get why even a lot of the more positive reviews are marked by faint praise. Fundamentally, Mendes bites off more than he can chew. The film wants to be a love-letter to cinemagoing, an exploration of mental health struggles, and a white reckoning with the rise of anti-black racism and white supremacy Britain saw in the early 80s. There's a lot there, and while I wouldn't say Mendes embarrasses himself (white directors have certainly done worse when addressing black issues on film) he also doesn't satisfy these threads either. Even the celebration of movie theaters, something you'd expect would come most naturally to Mendes (and appeal most to me) feel a bit trite and uninspired.

Still, the film is watchable in the moment, well-shot and with a good score. As a Reznor and Ross fan I was somewhat fascinated to hear their take on schmaltz. The film is also anchored by a very strong performance from Olivia Coleman, which more than anything was responsible for carrying me through the story.

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