Anticipation: 5/5 Look, I could not have been more excited for this movie. It features three actors whose work I really enjoy. Michael Fassbender is a household name at this point, but anyone who can give a performance like he did in Shame (2011) is worth watching. Alicia Vikander was fantastic in two roles last year, Ex Machina (2015) and The Danish Girl (2015). In a supporting role, Rachel Weisz is a welcome addition and is having a good year, also being featured in The Lobster (2015). All of this by Derek Cianfrance, director of Blue Valentine (2010) and The Place Beyond the Pines (2012).
Final Verdict: 3.5/5 The Light Between Oceans could have been great. However, despite the best efforts from the actors and the director, it never quite reaches those Oscar-level heights.
The Light Between Oceans is based on the novel of the same name, from author M.L. Stedman. It is the story of a lighthouse keeper (Michael Fassbender) and his wife (Alicia Vikander) who, after personal tragedies, choose to raise a child who washes up on the shore of their home. Later in the film, as evidenced by the trailer, the child’s genetic mother (Rachel Weisz) resurfaces and makes this story even more complicated.
The Light Between Oceans is melodrama of the highest order. Now, before you stop reading and check this movie off of your to watch list, take a moment. I know that melodrama has a bad reputation. Melodrama simply means that the plot devices tend to be sensational (you know, like an infant washing up in a boat) and is designed to affect the audience’s emotions. This includes movies like Written on the Wind (1956) and All That Heaven Allows (1955), both from the master of melodrama, Douglas Sirk.
But yes, melodrama can be painful to watch. Any genre performed poorly can be. But this is not the case in The Light Between Oceans. And most of that is due to three fantastic performances. Despite the fact that these outlandish events are taking place, Fassbender, Vikander, and Weisz take on their roles with deadly seriousness. This keeps the film grounded and helps us, as the audience, take it seriously as well. The high points of this film are the slowly growing and warming relationship between Fassbender and Vikander. There is never a moment in which you feel that they are fated to fall in love, or are only acting in certain ways because the plot demands it. It feels real. Vikander also has one extremely powerful scene, which I will not spoil here, but I was definitely moved. The same holds true for the pain and struggle performed by Weisz. It would have been easy to see her as a simple antagonist, but you feel for her as well.
Also a high point is Cianfrance’s deft hand behind the camera. This is one of the most aesthetically pleasing films you will see this year. It is probably second to only The Neon Demon (2016) in that arena. Additionally, in a brilliant move, the moment that the baby appears on the shore is filmed with a shaky cam. This decision absolutely puts us in the panicked, excited mindset of our main characters.
The film’s faults are all in the screenplay. Derek Cianfrance, yet again, picks a screenplay with a father raising a child that is not genetically related to him. It might be time to branch out a bit. As I mentioned, this was based on a novel, so I am not sure whom to blame. But this movie is set up for a wonderful, dark, bittersweet ending, but just does not quite have the guts to go there. Things work out just a little too simply and easily in the end. It definitely left me rolling my eyes a bit. It was quite unfortunate, but an ending to a movie can really sour the experience.
All that being said, I would still absolutely recommend The Light Between Oceans. The acting and the direction make this worth a watch. It really is a shame that it did not wrap up better, because we might be talking about Fassbender and Vikander as Oscar nominees again!