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What's on Tap

The Light Between Oceans: I wish this movie were lost at sea

Posted September 2, 2016

Get ready to feel ladies and gentlemen. "The Light Between Oceans" hits theaters this week. Nicholas Sparks fans are going to love it. There are no mason jars or handsome country boys charming cynical city girls, but brother, there are more than a few tough emotional choices facing these characters.

This movie is so Nicholas Sparksy that we’re going to grade every plot point on a mason jar scale. Imagine we have Mr. Sparks’ favorite drink container in front of us. We’ll score everything by how much red wine we pour in the mason jar. The more likely it is to make Nicholas Sparks say “Oh, that’s good!” to himself, the more wine goes in the jar.

Ready? Here we go!

"The Light Between Oceans" stars Michael Fassbender (the X-Men movies) as Tom Sherbourne. He is a man haunted by the things he had to do for the Australian army during World War I, so to deal with it, he volunteers to move to an island and man a lighthouse (full freakin’ mason jar!). There is a small town less than a day’s boat ride away. The Graymark family lives there with their fetching daughter Isabel, played by the most beautiful woman on the planet, Oscar winner Alicia Vikander.

I’ll talk more about her in a minute, but this casting gets an empty mason jar. Nicholas Sparks’ scripts couldn’t attract a woman this talented to the role. Vikander is really good in everything she’s in. She won her Oscar last year for The Danish Girl, but go back and watch her other 2015 release Ex-Machina and tell me that Oscar isn’t a catchall for both films!

Okay, back to the movie. Isabel falls in love with Tom. They get married and move to what I will call “Lighthouse Island” (half a mason jar). They try to start a family, but suffer two miscarriages (Quarter of a mason jar. Sparks usually likes to kill the elderly, not babies) that absolutely devastate Isabell and start her emotional unraveling (Still at a quarter).

One day a dingy washes up on the shores of Lighthouse Island that contains only a dead man and a living baby (Oh my God! Nicholas Sparks just filled up a second mason jar!). By the way, for being lost at sea in conditions that kill her father, that baby is awful dry.

Tom has a duty to report the lost child, but Isabell convinces him to stay silent so the couple can raise the baby as their own (halfway).

Tom and Isabell take the baby to Not Lighthouse Town to have the baby baptized. There Tom sees a woman (played by The Mummy’s Rachel Weisz) standing over the memorial of a man that was lost at sea with his daughter (3/4). I mean, we see where this is headed, right? Tom starts anonymously sending her messages saying the baby is alive and well.

These messages, of course lead to his arrest, etc. That by the way is another full mason jar for Nicholas Sparks. He’d be pretty drunk by now.

What "The Light Between Oceans" is really about is the struggle between duty and desperation. Not only is it Isabell’s desperation that keeps Tom from his duty, but Rachel Weisz’s character, Hannah, struggles with the desperation of missing her lost daughter and the duty to acknowledge that the little girl won’t see Hannah as her mother. There’s also another serious duty vs. desperation moment, but it would require me to spoil the movie.

Look, personally, I think you’re a fool if you can’t figure out what happens in the end, but I’m told it’s not fair to assume you do. This would be a shameless Oscar-bait movie if only it were better. "The Light Between Oceans" clocks in at 132 minutes, but it really doesn’t need the entire first hour. The first act plays like a greatest hits package of relationship highlights. The details of how we get to each moment don’t matter. That we got there is all that counts.

The movie doesn’t really get interesting until Tom discovers his daughter’s real mother at the graveyard. Start the movie there or just a bit before that moment and give me more of the police investigation. If the story of Tom and Isabell’s struggle to conceive and how they found their daughter plays out as flashbacks, this is suddenly a very interesting movie.

As it stands, "The Light Between Oceans" is just a retread of any script that has ever been adapted from the type of paperback book you might find in Wal-Mart’s “fine fiction” section. Maybe I only feel like it, because I really wanted to like this movie. The trailer intrigued me. What I got instead was a Nicholas Sparks quality script dressed up with a better than usual cast.

Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network.


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