Monday 7 November 2016

Film: 'The Light Between Oceans'

A fine story and some fine acting can't tip the balance against the negatives in this. The promise is all there but, alas, it's snookered by so much that's wrong with it.

Starting in 1918, Michael Fassbender, (who has never once disappointed me in the acting stakes), after serving in the Australian military, elects to go on a period of solitary seclusion by opting to man a lighthouse on a small offshore island. (Filmed in Tasmania). On a visit to the mainland he's taken by the sight of young, single Alicia Virkander - of whom more in a sec. Before very long they're married and start to live together on the island. Her failed experience(s) at giving birth leave them both feeling incomplete and deeply disappointed when, what should be seen drifting near their island? Only a rowing boat containing - yes, a baby, plus a dead man, presumably the baby's father. Seeing it as a 'sign' she takes the baby as her own, with him at first complicit, burying the man on the island and telling no one. They decide to pass the baby girl off as being their own child.
After a few years, with the girl now an infant, on a visit to the mainland again, and in one of those contrived coincidences used as a device to propel the story forward, he discovers the little girl's true mother, played by Rachel Weisz. He keeps this from his wife as long as he can though his inner conflict is apparent - until he starts making anonymous communication with the mother to assure her that her child is safe. Good story so far.

Now, that thorn-in-the-flesh that is Alicia Vikander. This is the fourth film I've seen her in the principal female starring role. In the first three I found that well over half her lines were so indecipherable as to make me wonder why she bothered to open her mouth at all. She obviously finds it too much effort to enunciate clearly - and so she is in this film. In fact, in just her first few lines of her initial appearance my heart sank in the realisation that she's learnt nothing. (In 'The Danish Girl', she might as well have been playing a mute as far as I was concerned!) It's a complete mystery to me as to why someone doesn't tell her. Are they afraid of her temper or what? Just because she became 'flavour of the month' a couple of years back does she think that she need not trouble herself with having respect for her audience? I'm sure she's pretty enough to look at, if you like that sort of thing, but I really do expect her to work for her money. I'd defy anyone to tell me what she's saying half the time or more. I can only assume that  everyone else is too embarrassed to say that they cannot catch her words for fear of other people thinking they might be going deaf. A case of 'The Emperor's New Clothes', I'd say.

Anyway, having got that off my chest, another major criticism I have of the film is that the background music is far too pervasive - it just can't shut up! Nearly all of it is sentimental slush, as though the story is incapable of speaking for itself. If you want to see how perfectly valid sentiment should be treated, I refer to the recently seen and superb 'I, Daniel Blake' directed by the veteran master, Ken Loach, someone who knows exactly how much to give it on screen - and then to just let go. Don't have it as a hovering background ghost for the entire rest of the film. 
The fairly unimaginative script too left something to be desired. 
Director (and writer) Derek Cianfrance draws excellent acting from at least Fassbender and Weisz, and virtually all the minor characters, but other than that it's a lacklustre affair, not helped by it being two and a quarter hours in length, which could easily have had 30 minutes lopped off, especially in the final scenes replete with implausibilities.

This could have been so much better, having, as it does, a really absorbing story. A finer director - and the replacement of the female lead - as well as some judicious editing, could have made it a superior experience to what it was..............5.


  1. I saw the trailer of this and thought it might be good. Now I dont think so, I swear my hearing is already really quite bad. I dread to think what it will be when I am 60. There is probably no way I would be able to hear her I fear, like I said with accents I find it quite hard. Will wait for the TV showing of it. I can then turn the TV up!

    1. Or maybe your TV has a subtitle option, Sol? Actually, not knowing what she's saying doesn't seem to have that much relevance when it's such a strong story (at least I assume it doesn't matter that much) but it certainly made me feel intensely frustrated. I keep thinking that myself, now at the age of 70, that surely my own hearing must be deteriorating, but I don't find it so in other aspects of my life, so I feel I'm on fairly sure ground here. It can't just be the sound system in the cinema either, as the films I refer to were seen in different cinemas.
      But in any case it's a film that might well be improved by a glass or three of red.

  2. Replies
    1. In the old days it would have been classed as a 'ladies' film', J.G. That would be unfair but it's certainly played as a tear-jerker - and from that point of view was more dry-eyed annoying than anything else.

  3. I read the book, and wanted to slap Vikander's character by the middle of it.

    1. The character must have been a trial to anyone she lived with, Jennifer - and in this film Vikander as an actress herself wanted, if not a slapping, then a damn good talking to.

  4. Ray,
    It is so annoying to try and understand what actors are saying when they mumble their lines, which seems to be the new realism in movies. I have to use closed captioning on films I see not because I'm hard of hearing but because I can't understand their mumbled lines. Another pet peeve of mine is a music score that overpowers a movie. Sometimes silence is best.
    Thanks for yet another excellent review and the heads up on its shortcomings.

    1. This Vikander person is an utter disgrace to the film actors' profession, Ron, and it's totally beyond me why others seem too scared to pick her up on it.
      So with that, and the omnipresent music score this would not be one for you. However, if you're curious enough to wonder if I'm serious, I do recommend you keep a good supply of aspirins handy.