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'The Light Between Oceans' movie review

Here's to more Fassbender & Vikander team-ups
Posted at 12:50 PM, Feb 03, 2017

"The Light Between Oceans" is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download

Remember Meat Loaf's immortal lyrics about romantic devotion, "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that?" If "The Light Between Oceans" was a jukebox musical, Michael Fassbender's character would have belted out that number.

This drama — which was passed over by every major awards show in 2016 despite boasting a strong director and a trio of powerhouse lead actors — asks its audience to consider what acts they would commit in the name of love. It sparked a debate on the topic between my wife and I after the credits rolled.

Based on a 2012 novel, "The Light Between Oceans" follows a mysteriously stoic ex-soldier named Tom, played by Fassbender, who is hired to watch over a lighthouse on an island off the coast of Australia around 1920. Tom lives on the island alone for months, making sure the light keeps shining. His solitude ends when he falls in love with a woman named Isabel, played by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, who marries him and moves to the island.

The couple tries unsuccessfully to have a child, with Isabel losing two pregnancies and becoming increasingly withdrawn with each miscarriage. But when a rowboat washes ashore on the island carrying a dead man and a crying newborn baby girl, Isabel quickly takes the baby as her own and finds her spirits renewed. Tom urges her to take the child to the mainland, certain someone must be looking for her but Isabel convinces him the baby was destined for them and that no one will ever discover the truth.

The majority of this film is played between Fassbender and Vikander, who are a joy to watch together, even if "The Light Between Oceans" overflows with a feeling of dread from the time the baby comes into their lives. These are two of the best actors working in movies today and they happen to be a couple in real life as well, so the bond between their characters feels real.

In his short career so far, director Derek Cianfrance has proven to be a master at handling complicated family drama. "The Light Between Oceans" is his first film since 2012's "The Place Beyond the Pines," which was a fantastic and epic look at the dynamics of fathers and sons. He broke out in 2010 with "Blue Valentine," a film about modern marriage that was as beautiful as it was hard to watch at times. "The Light Between Oceans" isn't as intense or visceral as those two earlier movies but it's plenty dark.

Tom finds himself further torn between his wife's fragile happiness and the painful truth when he meets a widow played by Oscar winner Rachel Weisz, whom he realizes is the baby's true mother.

There are times when this movie's plot feels slightly sexist. Vikander's character is a stereotypical weak-minded woman who is so desperate to procreate that she blinds herself to all logic and empathy, preferring to kidnap a child than adopt one legally. Of course it takes her husband to be the white knight, seeking the truth and preparing to fall on the sword just to keep her safe. But the players involved in this movie are so respectable and play the material so subtley that it allows me to forgive the old-fashioned overtones of its screenplay.

My biggest complaint about "The Light Between Oceans" is that it all feels too clean and safe. Ugly emotions like jealousy, possessiveness and greed are on full display here but those feelings felt muddled by the gorgeous scenery and attractive actors filling each frame.

But the performances in this movie are strong, especially from the two leads who carry it from start to finish. If Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander want to be the next Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, I'm all for it.

Clint's Grade: ???½ (out of 5)
"The Light Between Oceans"
Release Date: Sept. 2, 2016
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and some sexual content)
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Writer: Derek Cianfrance (based on M. L. Stedman's novel)
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz