The Light Between Oceans full movie review - Potential not completely fulfilled, but still a pretty good watch
"The Light Between Oceans" is an American film from this year that was written and directed by Derek Cianfrance and is based on a novel by M.L. Stedman.
The film runs for over two hours, but is still not as long as Cianfrance's previous project from 4 years ago: "The Place Beyond the Pines". The film is lead by actors Michael Fassbender (Oscar nominee) and Alicia Vikander (Oscar winner), while the biggest supporting character is portrayed by Rachel Weisz, another Oscar winner. Lets take a look at the story first. A man returns from war and takes a job as a lighthouse keeper at a remote island. He falls in love with a woman and she moves in with him. They try to have a child, but two miscarriages happen. Then, very much out of nowhere, a boat with a baby arrives on the island and it also includes a dead man. Later we find out, it was the man of the baby's mother and he was fleeing from being beaten up, but did die in the boat. The result of this situation is the big struggle when it comes to doing the right thing. The mother is still mourning for her child and Fassbender's character suffers with her (of course she does not know) from the situation, while Vikander's mostly thinks about herself, even if she keeps saying it's only for the best of the baby, which may even be true. Nonetheless, Fassbender's character decides to tell the police and he is arrested while the child comes back to his real mother and the two (especially the kid) very much struggle in making a connection with each other because the child cannot understand that Vikander's character was not his real mother.
It is all about the moral take here. There are arguments for the main couple in here too. You see this from the fact how the child appreciates them still when being grown up. After all, they saved her life and they had no idea there was still a mother out there. Lets talk a bit about the characters and actors. Fassbender was spot-on and deserves an Oscar nomination in my opinion. He totally nailed the character and was the MVP and when he was sitting in prison suffering and having given up on himself is when the film is maybe at its weakest, just because he has so little to work with and this sequence felt too long for its own good. Vikander has some good and not so good moments I think. She is not on par with Fassbinder (I think the two are a couple in real life too now) at all, but adds a personal note to the film. I still think she could have been better and her best sequence is when she reads the letter at the end, which says a lot that we don't see her (despite her looks) in her strongest moment. I think this letter was really the only thing that somehow justified the slightly embarrassing epilogue. And finally Weisz: Her character has great potential for a praised and awarded supporting performance, but I think she did not really fulfill the premise at all. She did give a good performance I think, but I felt she never took any risks with the character, but went the safe path. Risks may have transformed the character into a crucial, absolutely essential part of the story, but the approach she gave it never closed the screen-time gap in terms of significance compared to the other two. She was fine, but there was potential for much much more with this character.
I have not read the novel, so it is difficult to say how good the film is compared to the literary work, but I feel the title is a bit pretentious here, even if the "light" is of course true with reference to the lighthouse job. All in all, I felt this was an enjoyable film that had 2 or 3 really great scenes even that succeed on an emotional level. Nonetheless, like with Weisz' performance, I felt that the whole potential was not fulfilled here and it could have been one of the best films of the year too, which I would not say it is. The ending felt not too good for my liking because it so shamelessly directed quickly towards a (somewhat) happy ending for everybody. Maybe the film would have been better if it really would have ended with Fassbender's character being executed and Vikander's getting her baby back. This would have been no perfection for the characters of course, but it would have felt all about priorities and after Fassbinder informed the police, it would have rang true if Vikander's character's main priority had been her child then. Despite the letters of her husband. It would also have been an ending that you could discuss easier and more controversially. And if she decides to accuse her husband of murder (the man in the boat), then why would she give up on her plan to get back her beloved daughter at the very end, especially with her husband having accepted his fate. But you also have to go easy on Vikander's character. She is not bad or even evil. She just suffers a lot because of the miscarriages and the lack of proper psychological help afterward. Otherwise she may have made entirely different decision. Yet she is the only character that you could call close to an antagonist or anti-hero in this film. There are no villains in here really and this film proves that a good quality movie does not need villains to succeed as it succeeds with shades on the characters. What stays the most eventually here is Fassbender's tremendous lead performance overall. I hope he gets some awards recognition for it as he truly deserves it. I recommend watching this film. Thumbs up.