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The Light Between Oceans – Movie Review

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The Light Between Oceans – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

Before The Light Between Oceans begins, it feels like the end of an era. As Disney moves towards producing tent pole films and four quadrant pictures, the studio has been less inclined to make the adult dramas often released under their Touchstone Pictures label. The Light Between Oceans is the sort of film right at home with Touchstone’s mandate, although it also would have been an appropriate fit for their now sold Miramax division. This is a period drama about adult problems with a certain pace to it. It’s a good film and it is disappointing the Mouse House is moving away from these sorts of productions.

The Light Between Oceans gets off to a slow start with its beautiful landscapes and narration coming across like a Terrence Malick film. It starts to find its footing when a crying baby and a dead man are washed ashore and the leads find them. It eventually becomes a tale about moral dilemmas. On the one hand, one can understand Isabel’s desire for a child overpowering everything. Director/writer Derek Cianfrance does not shy away from the pain that comes from a miscarriage. As we see Isabel and Tom raise this young girl as their own with care and love, it’s not difficult to be on their side.

When the real mother enters into the picture, the morals get turned upside down and Cianfrance finds a lot of drama in playing with our alliances. Tom’s actions in trying to help Hannah are admirable, but the bond formed between Isabel and her “daughter” is one of genuine motherly love. Cianfrance never turns anyone into a villain, as everyone’s points of view are explored and come from an understandable place. He also understands the setting and time period. The approach the authorities take with removing Lucy from her “mother” is not handled with the best care, but is probably what would have happened in that time and it becomes difficult to watch. That’s when a lot of the emotion sets in as the sympathies shift towards how young Lucy feels.

With the calibre of thespians in The Light Between Oceans, it’s not surprising the acting is exemplary. Michael Fassbender takes the quiet approach to playing Tom, a man with a lot on his mind as this situation develops. Rachel Weisz shows the proper pain and hardship with dealing with a disinterested daughter raised by another. In a number of scenes, it would have been easy to make her thoroughly unlikeable, but Weisz finds the proper balance. Alicia Vikander also has a difficult role to play as she has to make Isabel sympathetic, while still showing the moral implications of her actions. It’s her usual standout work and a good example of why she has risen into a much sought after actress over the past couple of years. Derek Cianfrance’s delicate direction also deserves acclaim for how it commands these three noteworthy performances, along with a subtle score by Alexandre Desplat and skilled cinematography from Adam Arkapaw.

It’s a disappointment to see The Light Between Oceans released on what is historically the worst week to release a new film. This is a beautifully crafted and certainly emotional period piece with an old-fashioned feel. The performances are top-tier and the screenplay gives these characters real depth and conflict. As soon as one gets past the slow beginning, there’s a solid film with a good amount to admire. If it does end up being the last film released under the Touchstone name, it’s nice to see it go out on a high note. As Walt Disney Pictures continues to greenlight more films based on four-quadrant appeal and tentpole marketability, The Light Between Oceans is a good reminder of the films they would occasionally make on the side.


Stefan Ellison

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