Empire of Light (Blu-ray)

A drama about the power of human connection during turbulent times, set in an English coastal town in the early 1980s.

February 21, 2023 5 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Movies about mental health are hit and miss. It’s a balance as to how to portray someone with issues without going off the deep end (or the other direction, playing it too safe). But in Empire of Light we’re surrounded by a great, talented cast that seem to know their limits and this is what helps the film work. It doesn’t hurt that Sam Mendes is behind the camera, he gave us American Beauty and Skyfall just to name a few. The film, to me, seems like the kind of project that would seem destined for award shows. It received no nominations, most likely to the chagrin of the cast and crew. But if you wanted to tune into a human-driven melodrama set back in the early 1980’s in a coastal English town – you’ve arrived.

Hilary (Olivia Colman) is a manager at a local cinema located in a small English coastal town. She’s involved with her boss, Mr. Ellis (Colin Firth), in which he can essentially have any and all of his desires come to life. He’s the benefactor and she gets nothing in return. Things change a bit when a new employee, Stephen (Micheal Ward) sparks something in Hilary’s life. The form an unlikely connection in which Hilary’s life (and mood) goes up and down. Her mental issues constantly give her trouble and this is highlighted when the premiere of future Best Picture winner Chariots of Fire is screened. From there we follow the lives of Stephen and Hilary.

Empire of Light, for me, is one of those films that falls into the vast void of cinema. It checks all the boxes, but it just seemed like there was something missing. The cast is certainly competent, as is the director and the script seems solid as well. But this was one of those films that I forgot about just an hour or two after the credits rolled. And…that’s not good. If a film doesn’t resonate with its audience, there’s something inherently wrong. And I’d make it a lot easier if I could find something to exemplify my point, but I simply cannot. It’s a beautifully-shot film with engaging performances, especially by Colman, but aside from that it’s a hard reccomendation.

Video: How’s it look?

Director Sam Mendes has partnered with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins and the result is, well, stunning. The 2.39:1 AVC HD image didn’t lack in any department. The entire color gamut is shown and this might be one of the more beautifully-shot films I’ve seen in quite some time. It really is a testament to the creativity and vision (pardon the pun) that someone of Deakins’ caliber can command. Black levels are strong and solid, detail is off the charts and even some of the more sweeping visuals all look gorgeous. My jaw was on the floor during some scenes.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The included DTS HD Master Audio mix isn’t quite as impressive as the video, but thankfully this isn’t a film that relies on its audio to carry it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not “bad” by any means and I enjoyed Trent Reznor’s contribution to the mix. For those that might be wondering, Reznor won an Oscar for his work with The Social Network and used to be (or maybe still is?) the lead singer of Nine Inch Nails. It’s a front-heavy track with only occasional usage from the surrounds, but they’re employed and are effective.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Creating Empire of Light – The film’s lone supplement comes in the form of this 18 minute featurette that tells us all we need to know. The obligatory talking heads spurt out quips left and right. It’t not a bad supplement, I just wish there were more.

The Bottom Line

This isn’t the tpye of film that’s going to appeal to the masses and, quite frankly, Mendes has done better work in the past. But I was taken in by the story and if nothing else – it’s one good-looking movie.

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