The Light Between Oceans Plot Summary:
Set after the First World War, a lighthouse keeper (Michael Fassbender) falls in love with the daughter (Alicia Vikander) of his employer. As the two try and conceive a child, tragedy befalls them. When a baby washes up on shore, the two make a decision to care for the child, resulting in ramifications that could tear two families apart.
A lot of credit has to be given to director Derek Cianfrance, who’s previous efforts include Blue Valentine, and the criminally underrated The Place Beyond the Pines. To make a two-hour plus period piece not feel like a two-hour plus period piece is an achievement in itself. This isn’t perfect, but Cianfrance takes dense, heavy material and makes it compelling all the way through. Not many directors could have achieved this. It also doesn’t hurt to have Michael Fassbender steering the ship, along with Alicia Vikander, who I think has been in the last twenty movies I’ve seen. Their relationship is the heart of this film.
Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, who at first seems underwritten, with very little personality. The screenplay wisely makes this a cornerstone of the character. That’s the point. We slowly realize he’s disillusioned from fighting in the war, and wants nothing more than to live a life of isolation as lighthouse keeper. What’s brilliant about the screenplay is that it’s Vikander’s character, Isabel, who ignites a personality in him. The movie works because you completely buy into their relationship. It takes only one scene of dialogue for them to fall in love, but it’s one hell of a conversation that digs deep into who this guy is. Fassbender does a phenomenal job with very little to work with. Fassbender continues to show why he’s one of the better actors working today.
While Alicia Vikander also gives a heart-wrenching performance, her character isn’t written as strongly. While I was able to get a grasp on what Tom is all about, Isabel isn’t as compelling. The only trait they make clear is she desperately wants to be a mother. This is enough to connect us to the complete and utter hell this couple goes through as they try and bring a child into the world, including a couple real intense scenes that are very well directed by Cianfrance.
The movie wisely sets up the couple’s tragedies in the first act, so that when the monkey wrench is thrown at them later in the movie, we understand why they make the decision that they make, even if it is an immoral one. As soon as they decide to keep the child that is literally washed up on shore, it causes all the ramifications you would imagine it would. Fassbender plays the guilt beautifully. He can’t even look at people the same way when they congratulate him on his new baby. New wrinkles continue to come into play, including Rachel Weisz’s character, who emotionally crushes Tom and Isabel as they each learn who she is. The real drama comes into play when everything starts to unravel for the three main characters. All of them are forced to make no win decisions where it seems like everybody loses, including the child.
The film’s biggest strength is also its greatest weakness. While I appreciate the time moving by quickly, a lot of the big moments felt rushed. As these characters try to make their end all, be all decisions, it all felt too fast with not a lot of talking going on. The very end was particularly wrapped up too quickly. While they could have done more with Vikander’s character, the same can be said for Rachel Weiz, who felt like she was missing a lot of scenes.
While the end leaves a little to be desired, Cianfrance brings the movie back to its core, which is the relationship between Fassbender and Vikander. While it could have been meatier in certain areas, Cianfrance definitely has a knack for efficient storytelling. As this is a movie that takes place primarily on the water, it’s also extremely well shot. It’s no doubt intense and ponderous at times, but The Light Between Oceans is no doubt a powerful film worth seeing.
RATING: 7.5 OUT OF 10 (VERY GOOD)
======================================================================================================Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.