Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) has just returned home to Western Australia following the cessation of hostilities in 1918. Fighting on the Western Front in the Great War has scarred Tom, and he decides to apply for a job which requires no human interaction- a lighthouse keeper. He becomes the caretaker for the lighthouse on Janus Island, a hundred miles from the nearest town. But on his first trip to his new post he meets a woman named Isabel (Alicia Vikander), and as he exchanges letters with her they fall in love, and are eventually married. Isabel joins Tom at the lighthouse with plans to start a family, but after two miscarriages she is about to give into despair. That is, until she hears a cry on the wind, and spots a small boat washed up on the island. When she investigates, she discovers a (dead) man and a (live) infant. Despite Tom’s misgivings, the couple keeps the child and raises her as their own, but years later they discover that the girl’s birth mother (Rachel Weisz) is still alive, and wants her daughter back.
I will admit, The Light Between Oceans is probably not a movie I would watch on my own if I wasn’t reviewing it- I’m certainly not a part of the film’s target demographic. However, the film is a well-made drama and period piece. Director Derek Cianfrance, who previously directed Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, clearly has a strong grasp of the art of making a good drama film. The dialogue (Cianfrance penned the screenplay) is occasionally a bit schmaltzy but never overbearing, and is more sparse than a typical drama due to small number of important characters and to Tom and Isabel’s isolation. Fassbender, Vikander, and Weisz all give solid performances, if not the best I’ve seen from them (which, if you were wondering, I would say are from 12 Years a Slave, Ex Machina, and The Fountain respectively).
Probably my favorite thing about the movie is the gorgeous cinematography. Adam Arkapaw (who previously worked on last year’s Macbeth and HBO’s True Detective) takes full advantage of the beautiful scenery of the Australian and New Zealander filming locations- the movie has numerous beautiful shots of oceans and islands. The interior shots are no slouch either, as Arkapaw demonstrates clever use of lighting to match the look of the surrounding landscape, giving the film a defined look and feel.
My only real complaint with the movie is that the plot is a bit predictable and schmaltzy, which is par for the course for Oscar bait. Personally, I would put odds on this getting a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as possibly Best Cinematography. But then, it’s quite apparent even from just watching a trailer that this is Oscar bait, and this is the season for it. Although not an amazing film, The Light Between Oceans is a solid drama film, particularly if you’re in the mood for award bait.