The Light Between Oceans review: Solid, but beyond depressing

I want to start off this review by saying that if you haven’t seen “The Place Beyond the Pines,” stop everything you are doing and watch it right now. That film is an underrated masterpiece and directed by Derek Cianfrance, who also directed “Blue Valentine” and now, “The Light Between Oceans.”

Two weeks in a row, I’ve seen solid films that I am very cautious of recommending. Last week, with “Don’t Breathe,” I said it was an incredible horror film but had a sequence that is so disturbing that I never wanted to see it again. It was a rare situation where it was a great film (4/5) but I didn’t recommend it.

Now, this week, with “The Light Between Oceans,” we have an example of a solid film that is beyond depressing. Similarly, both of these films are well-made. They both have great performances, cinematography, stories, score and direction.

With “The Light Between Oceans,” I just found myself emotionally devastated when I left the theatre. It really just put me in a sad mood. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. Not at all. In this case, the film did its job of telling an extremely sad story that pulls you apart emotionally and morally. Do I recommend seeing it? The film is solid but only if you’re ok with feeling depressed when you leave. It’s a bit of a downer.

The film is based on the best-selling novel with the same name starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. Vikander and Fassbender are easily two of the best actors working today with an astounding body of work. Vikander first showed up on my radar after I saw “Ex Machina,” which is an absolute masterpiece in filmmaking. Vikander won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar earlier this year for her work in “The Danish Girl.” Like Vikander, Fassbender has a huge filmography to prove he’s one of the best working today, including “Shame,” “X-Men: First Class,” “Inglorious Basterds” and more. The sequence in “X-Men: First Class” in the bar is one of most epic sequences I’ve seen on film in a long time.

In “The Light Between Oceans,” Vikander and Fassbender play a married couple who live off the coast of Western Australia. Fassbender plays a character named Tom who is a lighthouse keeper. His wife, Isabel, is played by Vikander. I stayed away from trailers for this film so I had no idea what the plot had in store for me. As the film shows, Vikander’s character, Isabel, loses two of her babies before they are born. In a miraculous twist, a boat washes to the shore of the lighthouse carrying a dead father and a living baby. The married couple is now faced with a choice to keep the baby or report it. After Fassbender tries to do the right thing, the married couple decide to keep the baby. Now, years have gone by and the guilt has lived with Tom all this time. One day, he meets the real mother of the child, played by Rachel Weisz. He can’t stand to see Weisz’s character, Hannah, in pain so he starts communicating with her to let Hannah know that her daughter is alive. This obviously greatest he moral tension for the film as you watch how this effects everyone’s lives.

This movie really does take you on a brutally emotional journey that tears you apart from the inside out. I found myself switching sides with who I agreed with. This is definitely a film that makes you work as an audience member. A lot of the sequences put you in the mindset of, “What would I do?” I always find that fascinating because I found myself asking that question a lot during this movie. On one side, you have a husband who’s wife has lost two children. A baby arrives which brings an intense amount joy to Vikander’s character. Seeing her smile again drops Tom’s moral guard, which allows him to agree to keep the child. On the other side of the coin, you have a mom (Weisz) who has no idea her daughter is still alive and thinks she lost that baby and husband at sea.

The story is a great concept. It works on pulling at your emotions and is a great vehicle for an actor to get in to. The film is gorgeously shot by Adam Arkapaw (“Animal Kingdom”) and scored by the brilliant Alexander Desplat (“Moonrise Kingdom”). Cianfrance proves again that he can handle extremely difficult material but allowing his actors to carry the films.

Arkapaw’s cinematography is on a different level. The shots are almost a movie in their own. The shots where Fassbender is lighting the lighthouse are gorgeous. There’s one particular shot that I loved where Fassbender goes over the Vikander to take her in with a blanket. Vikander is holding the baby while she’s sleeping. Fassbender sits down near them and the light coming through the window completely over saturates his head. You can barely see his face and it just seemed so appropriate for that moment.

The film delivers with performances, score, cinematography and more. I had some issues with dialogue and pacing but overall, I found it to be an interesting character study. 3.5/5. Just prepare to be sad when you leave.

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