The Light Between Oceans -Beautiful scenery and beautiful acting in this melodrama

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Michael Fassbender stars as Tom Sherbourne and Alicia Vikander as his wife Isabel in DreamWorks Pictures poignant drama THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, written and directed by Derek Cianfrance based on the acclaimed novel by M.L. Stedman.

I learned something about myself in watching the melodrama The Light Between Oceans, and that is that my perspective watching Western movies has changed after watching so many Indian films.  I only got a little misty at the very ending.  It was meant to tug at my heartstrings, but it didn’t affect me very strongly.  (Meanwhile, the friend with me who has an adopted son, cried through most of the second half.)  The film is beautifully shot.  It’s gorgeous scenery, and I can’t find fault with the excellent acting of Michael Fassbender and Alicia Virkander.  It just felt a little flat to me.

Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a veteran of WWI who thinks spending months alone working on an island as the lighthouse keeper sounds wonderful.  He’s looking forward to peace and quiet.  Just before he leaves for the island of Janus, he meets the vivacious Isabel.  Isabel has lost both her brothers to the war, and there’s a quick reference to the lack of available men.

Tom and Isabel write to each other, and after knowing each other hardly at all, decide to get married.  The only way she could even visit the Island of Janus is as the wife of the lighthouse keeper.  I liked the romance portion at the beginning of the film.  Tom is reserved and numb from the war, and Isabel brings joy and life back to Tom.

the-light-between-oceansThey arrive at the island after their wedding at night, and her first time seeing the beautiful small stark island is the next morning.  I read a really cool way that the director, Derek Cianfrance, captured that initial wonder.  He blindfolded Alicia Virkander and so she didn’t see the island herself until she came out of the little house.  The awe and amazement at her surroundings is completely real.

Isabel suffers two miscarriages, made all the more difficult in that they are completely alone on the island when they happen.  The look on her face when she realizes she’s about to lose the second baby is really wrenching.

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Isabel is in deep depression, when Tom spots a boat off the island containing the dead body of a man, and a wailing infant.  Isabel convinces Tom to let them keep the baby, and present it to everyone on the mainland as their own.

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The melodrama comes when on a visit to the mainland, Tom comes across the mother of the baby.  He can’t live with himself that Rachel Weisz thinks her baby died with her husband.

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All the actors here were great.  Rachel Weisz plays the bereaved mother stricken with grief, and it was nice to see Australian actor Bryan Brown as her father.  Veteran Australian actor Jack Thompson also has a nice small role as Tom’s boss.

Michael  Fassbender and Alicia Virkander are two Oscar caliber actors who completely give their all to these parts.  The acting in this film is top notch, and the cinematography is gorgeous.  It’s that the plot is maybe too slight.  My friend called it an extended Hallmark card — although it did make her cry.  It’s based on a popular book, that I could see would make an excellent book group discussion book.  Would you go to live on an island where you’ll be alone with a husband you barely know?  Would you keep a baby that isn’t yours the way they did?  Who is a real mother — the biological mother, or the mother who has raised a child for 4 years?

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I loved the director, Derek Cianfrance‘s first film Blue Valentine with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  I haven’t seen his second film, also with Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond the Pines, but he excels at wrenching dramas about characters that feel like real people.  I can’t put my finger exactly on why this melodrama, The Light Between Oceans, didn’t completely satisfy me.  And again, I wonder if it’s because I’m used to so much more story and wrenching emotions in the Indian melodramas I’ve been watching.  But, glancing at the Rotten Tomatoes score and top critics’ views on the film, I’m not alone in my dissatisfaction.

Still, I love both actors, and I loved seeing them literally fall in love on screen.  The couple are now together in real life.

Four stars out of five for the stellar acting and beautiful cinematography and score.

Alicia Virkander won the Oscar for The Danish Girl, but run, don’t walk, to see her in the excellent Sci-fi film Ex Machina.  Now THAT is a fantastic film.

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Slow West – My favorite narrative film from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

2015-05-11-1431344951-6115353-slowest3Slow West was my favorite narrative film of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.  This past weekend there were two things that made me think back to this excellent film.  I was visiting with someone at a party who asked me about my favorite films at Sundance, and I read an old article in EW about Rogue One.

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I had no idea before I saw this picture that Ben Mendelsohn who was the villain in Slow West is the Empire evil general of Rogue One.

Ben Mendelsohn had two films at the 2015 Sundance.  Slow West and the not quite as good gambling drama Mississippi Grind with Ryan Reynolds.  I’ll never forget that he wore the huge bearskin coat from Slow West to the premiere.

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Slow West is a Western, the debut feature film of English director John Maclean.  It was filmed in New Zealand to stand in for the American West of the late 19th century.  The scenery is drop dead gorgeous.  (Seriously, if you ever have the opportunity, GO to New Zealand.  The mountain range near Queenstown is called The Incredibles for a reason.)

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Of course, the taciturn Michael Fassbender is perfect to play Silas, a loner bounty hunter in the old West, He has the presence to express much while saying nothing, like the perfect Western hero.

Kodi Smit-McPhee (who I saw in the futuristic set Western Young Ones at the 2014 Sundance fest) plays Jay, a young nobleman on the search for his lost love. He is fresh off the boat from Scotland, and Silas rescues him , and then offers his services as protector for a steep fee.

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The movie moves at a measured pace as they travel together, punctuated with startling action scenes — all the more startling coming suddenly out of the slow quiet we have been lulled into.  I really liked the relationship that develops between the green romantic Jay and the reserved jaded Silas.

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Along their journey, they run into the gang of another bounty hunter, played by Ben Mendelsohn in an outrageous big bearskin coat,. (The actor wore the very coat to the premiere). We find out that there is a huge bounty on the girl that Jay is infatuated with, and her father, and there are many bounty hunters looking for the pair. Silas is among them, although he hides that fact from young Jay.

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What I loved about Slow West is how it took the audience expectations of what happens in the Western genre, and turned them on their head. The final climax shoot out scene, which we all see coming, goes nothing like what I expected, and I loved the movie for it. I won’t spoil it by listing in detail what surprised me, but I especially loved that Rose (the object of Jay’s infatuation) was quite simply kick ass and no damsel in distress.  Rose is played by Caren Pistorius, who will appear again with Fassbender later this year in The Light Between Oceans.

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While you could complain that Slow West was too slow in parts, I felt like it just added to the impact of the action scenes and the New Zealand scenery was gorgeously shot. It’s hard to believe that this is the debut feature of director/writer John Maclean. It well deserved the World Cinema Dramatic Jury prize it won at Sundance.  I’m a huge Michael Fassbender fan, and this is one of my all time favorite Fassbender films, and he’s been in so many good ones.

Slow West is available now for rental on Amazon Video (it’s free with Amazon Prime) and on Google Play.

Five stars out of five.