“The Light Between Oceans”
Here is the ultimate contradiction concerning director Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans.” Like last year’s “The Room,” it is a film that I would recommend while simultaneously admitting that I could never watch it again. It is a fabulous film starring great actors that focuses on a life journey filled with depression and heartache.
It begins in 1918 when a battle-scarred veteran of World War I, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns home to Australia. He gladly accepts a job as a watchman in a lighthouse on an island devoid of any other people, and he relishes his isolation.
Upon returning to the mainland for a short meeting, he falls in love with Isabel (Alicia Vikander), a young woman suffering her own agony after losing two brothers in that hideous European conflict. They quickly marry and return to the island where they hope to raise a family.
The only real joy in this movie is found from the relationship of this couple, and it is helped by both actors’ tremendous talents as well as the fact that they are a couple off-screen. Watching them embrace is reminiscent of old movies with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
However, after two tragic miscarriages, a boat washes up on shore with a dead young man and a very much alive child. Tom wants to report the incident to the mainland authorities while Isabel convinces him to keep it secret so that they can raise the baby. While they prove to be a great, loving family, you know that tragedy waits in the shadows.
That tragedy is in the form of Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), identified as a grieving mother who lost her husband and child at sea at about the same time the boat washed up at the lighthouse. Her agony rekindles the regret felt by Tom, and the truth gradually seeps out, creating a nightmarish emotional explosion.
The movie is close to 2 hours and 15 minutes long, and it seems much longer. You end up sitting in your seat thinking, “God, let this agony stop.” A child thinks the wrong, caring woman is her mother while rejecting her actual mother. A devoted husband and wife lose each other’s trust, and you gradually realize that this movie cannot have a happy ending.
While I know this film is based on a very popular book, readers must have found comfort from a story focusing on human misery. Regardless, there are few actors working today more capable than Mr. Fassbender, Ms. Vikander and Ms. Weisz, and it is to their credit that this movie succeeds in probing the depths of human loss.
I feel a bit guilty about my reaction to director Clint Eastwood’s “Sully.” It simply wasn’t that good. While Chesley Sullenberger remains a national hero for saving the lives of 155 airline passengers by bravely landing in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009, Eastwood’s film comes close to robbing the moment of its glory.
As expected, Tom Hanks does a splendid job playing the introverted, quiet Sullenberger. On the other hand, he plays Sully as a man largely devoid of emotion as reflected by his quizzical reaction to being acclaimed a media darling. While this may seem to border on a sacrilege, his performance here is not much different than what we saw in the recently dismissed film “A Hologram for the King.”
While the film is barely an hour-and-a-half long, 90 percent of the movie focuses on the aviation safety panel investigation of his flight. Rather than spending more time focusing on the drama taking place with the passengers on the plane before it landed in the Hudson, scene after scene does little more than show Sully jogging the streets of Manhattan and sitting silently in his hotel room.
Furthermore, it is incredibly hard to believe that the investigating panel was as sinister as displayed on the screen. Despite the fact that Sully had saved the life of every passenger, they caustically dismissed him for failing to land at LaGuardia. I couldn’t help but think of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella taunting Columbus when he returned in 1493 for not finding a Northwest Passage to China and India.
As for Mr. Eastwood, I find it extraordinarily difficult to accept his recent tendencies to reduce spouses of acclaimed Americans to little more than housewives offering loving support to their husbands via long-distance telephone calls. Laura Linney, here playing Sully’s wife, is limited to playing a phone wife in much the same way as Elise Robertson in “American Sniper” (2014).
On the other hand, Aaron Eckhart needs to be recognized for his role as Jeff Skiles, Sully’s co-pilot. Composed at all times in the cockpit, he repeatedly shows his disgust with the treatment he and Sully received by the security panel after their marvelous accomplishment. It was great to see Mr. Eckhart finally overcome his recent performances in lackluster movies like this year’s “London Has Fallen” and “I, Frankenstein” (2014) and recreate his memorable contributions to films like “Thank You for Smoking” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008).
This is a movie about a great event that failed to do justice to the event itself. The short time Sully and Skiles were in the air with their passengers and crew touches a nerve that everyone feels when boarding a plane, and you will have your heart in your throat during those moments on the big screen. That may save the rest of the film for you, but it didn’t for me.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.