Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Movie Review #479: "The Light Between Oceans" (2016)

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Movie"The Light Between Oceans"
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes

Post-WWI, a former soldier named Tom (Michael Fassbender) takes a job tending a lighthouse on an isolated island. He falls in love with Isabel (Alicia Vikander), a woman from the nearby town. They are soon married and move to the lighthouse together. After the next few years bring two pregnancies and two miscarriages, Isabel has fallen into a deep depression, but when a baby and a dead man in a boat wash up on shore, she believes it is fate and convinces Tom they should keep the baby as their own. On a visit to town to christen their "daughter," who they have named Lucy (Florence Clery), Tom discovers their baby's real mother, Hannah (Rachel Weisz), grieving at a memorial for her dead husband and child. Now, Tom is forced to chose between telling the truth to ease this random woman's suffering or hiding the lie in order to keep his beloved wife happy. 

"The Light Between Oceans" is directed by Derek Cianfrance, who is best known for his films "Blue Valentine" and "The Place Beyond the Pines." Cianfrance also wrote the screenplay for this movie, which he adapted from the novel by M.L. Stedman. It stars Michael Fassbender as a World War I veteran who takes a job working at an isolated lighthouse located on the small island of Janus Rock off the coast of Point Partageuse, Australia. After working there a short time, he starts to fall in love with a young woman named Isabel, played by Academy Award winner/Fassbender's girlfriend Alicia Vikander, who lives in the town nearest his lighthouse. This film is all about their relationship from the day they meet through its entirety. They face one of the worst hardships a couple can go through when Isabel gets pregnant and has a miscarriage, and even more so when it happens all over again a few years later. Their heartbreaking changes when they spot a boat floating in the water with what they discover is a baby inside. The only caregiver they know of dead inside the boat with it. Isabel persuades Tom they should keep the baby and raise it as their own child, which seems like a lonely, potentially barren couple simply trying to save an orphan's life. Of course, their plan works for many years, until it goes awry when Tom discovers the baby's biological mother is still alive and grieving for her husband and daughter, who were lost at sea and presumed dead.

When we saw the trailer lay out the scenario within "The Light Between Oceans," the first thing we thought of were phrases like "Oscar bait" and "prestige piece." Neither of these are inherently bad things, but a melancholy tale of turmoil within relationships, miscarriages, finding a sea-swept baby, and the ensuing moral dilemma pitting the happiness between two women? It's no wonder this film screams "hey everybody, look! It's award season!"

The best thing about this movie is its breathtaking visuals. This is a wonderful, beautifully shot film with great, jaw-dropping cinematography full of gorgeous coastal landscapes, intense and frequent sunsets, rolling waves, cobbled cliffs, and oceans as far as the eye can see. Despite all the brilliant visuals and interesting camerawork that ranges from hyper close-ups to far off long shots, the story is rather mundane and is full of a lot of banal dialogue. Even with powerhouse actors like Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender putting on mostly riveting performances, this film doesn't wind up being all that memorable. It lacks a certain emotional oomph for us, and given its subject matter(s), one might think getting a moving, impassioned response or reaction with a tale like this would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Unfortunately, not so much. It didn't quite affect us like we hoped it would, at least not until the very end, and I was the only one touched by it.

"The Light Between Oceans" is a very human story about realistic, well developed characters, so it's a shame Cianfrance wasn't able to capitalize on the emotional gravity of the situations within this tale. We understand why the characters do what they do and we can't blame anyone of them for their actions, and yet for some reason, it's not nearly as gripping as is should or could be. Fassbender and Vikander, luckily, ace their performances, and we would not be surprised if either of them received Oscar nominations for their roles in this film, but then again, this also feels like a Lifetime movie in disguise. We found Weisz's performance to be a bit underwhelming and a touch over-dramatic. While the visuals will surely delight those with a penchant for beautiful film making, the rest of it may leave you feeling underwhelmed, too.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 58%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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