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Empire of Light      review by Bobby Blakey

Director Sam Mendes continues to bring some great films to audiences including Road to Perdition, 1917 and his additions to the James Bond franchise Skyfall and Spectre. His latest film Empire of Light takes a step away from the action and into love and drama and features a great cast including Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Toby Jones and Colin Firth. Could this film capture the true essence of life and art or will it fail to shine on the big screen?

Empire of Light follows Hilary, a cinema manager struggling with her mental health, and Stephen, a new employee longing to escape the provincial town where he faces daily adversity. Together they find a sense of belonging and experience the healing power of music, cinema, and community.

When I saw this film it was one of those few times I had no idea what it was about or who was in it so it allowed me to have zero expectations going in. From the title and seeing a poster as I walked in I was afraid that it might be one of those slow paced films that just gets bogged down on itself, but what I experienced was something so much more. This is a film that crosses so many different places of emotions and nostalgia that its often times funny, heartbreaking, scary, loving and everything in between.

The story is simple yet very complex as it focuses on mental health, relationships and belonging all through the eyes of two people and the cinema that they work out. This setting alone creates a nostalgic feeling of a different time in the world and of the theater experience that we just don’t get anymore. It is all commercial and cattle wrangling now instead of the higher status experience and magical journey it all is both in the film you are going to see and the experience in and out of the theater.

This is an important part of the film as it creates not only the esthetic of its setting, but the understanding of when and where we are. The focal point is

that of Hilary played to perfection by Olivia Colman. This is a woman that walks through her daily life with passion for the cinema she works for but little else as she struggles to find her place in the world and holding all together within.

On the other side is Stephen played perfectly by Michael Ward. He is the complete opposite to Hilary in every way and brings an optimistic hope to her life that is initially baffling to how they connect, but slowly becomes something that makes complete sense. As it all unfolds it brings to light deeper hidden issues and dreams from them both making for an emotional journey that delivers so much more than I had expected.

The rest of the cast are good including Colin Firth who has an important impact to the story as a whole but surprising isn’t in the film as much as you might expect. The time he is here has major implications to the entire story and the characters involved. Have no fear he has some great moments and perfect for the part which despite being small is big.

I did not expect to come out of this film loving it as much as I did. It shines a light on mental health and life exploration in a way that is believable and heartbreaking while still shinning a glimmer of hope and happiness in the world. This is easily one of my favorite films of the year and hope that people check it out.

Decide for yourself and check out Empire of Light in theaters December 9th from Searchlight Pictures.

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