I’ve spoken out loud to a movie screen twice this year which is the signature of a great film. First it was Bones and All and Mark Rylance’s unbelievable performance and sympathetic cannibal (yes you read that right and THAT’S what makes this incredible acting).
The second movie screen exclamation was last night in total awe over Olivia Coleman. These aren’t spoilers, but simply alerts for those of you going to see it; watch the beach scene, ditto the stage scene, and again look closely at her monologue looking back at her childhood with a unshaded lamp glowing beneath her. MAGIC. ACTING PERFECTION.
I was totally enchanted with the film since I fear I am riding a dying horse (metaphor for a woman who loves film in the theater when many others have abandoned the experience for a variety of legitimate and illegitimate reasons: Covid fears, lack of quality films available in theaters, finances, lonely isolation/fear of looking weird going alone* (IT ISN’T btw), stupid streaming laziness, amnesia of how fun the movie theater experience can be).
Empire of Lights tries through a beautiful minor role (Toby Jones) as a projectionist to wake us up to the miracle of what film is engineering-wise and Micheal Ward as a concessions employee who tries to convince Olivia’s character, a theater manager to take in a film* rather than just manage. I must also mention how great Colin Firth is as a male chauvinist.
The trouble with the movie (and it’s minor due to the aforementioned acting accolades AND GORGEOUS cinematography by Roger Deakins and music by Trent Reznor (does he do every great movie these days?) is that it tries too hard to tackle all societal difficulties: mental health, race relations, and broken homes.
My Script Doctor advice for Mendes: 1. build a friendship first between Olivia and Micheal (move the beach scene early in the movie as he has a broken wing fixation…(and while I’m on that topic, there were a few lines that were too treacly, broken wing…you’ll see). 2. Don’t have 5 endings and stick the landing after she goes to the movie alone. Or from that scene go to the park bench goodbye scene.
But I repeat, this movie is so beautiful, it’s worth seeing even as a series of lovely scenes by Masterclass actors.