Movie Review: “The Light Between Oceans”

Starring
Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown
Director
Derek Cianfrance

In the summer of 2011, I had a brief gig with a gigantic movie database, tagging films with certain key words. Under the ‘Plot’ category was my favorite tag: “Hide the Body!” It brings to mind movies like “Very Bad Things,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Shallow Grave,” films where someone dies under gruesome or mysterious circumstances and the remaining characters keep the death a secret because it benefits them somehow. “The Light Between Oceans,” a period piece set off the western coast of Australia, is a Hide the Body movie. Gotta say, didn’t see that coming.

This aspect of the plot wreaks havoc on the rest of the story, too. Try as they might to make a tasteful art film about love and betrayal – and for a few stretches, they succeed – the thriller angle of the story disrupts the tone once it comes to the forefront. There is clearly a lot going on between the ears of the main characters (grief has many layers), but very little of it is translated on screen for the viewer.

After serving his country in the Great War, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) enlists to man a lighthouse on an island off the western Australian coast. Before he leaves for the island, he meets cute with Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander). When Tom receives an extended contract to stay on the island, he asks Isabel to marry him, so she can be with him on the island. The two try to start a family, but Isabel’s first two pregnancies end in miscarriage. Days after the second miscarriage, a dinghy washes ashore and inside it is a dead man and a live newborn baby. Isabel convinces Tom not to report the encounter, and then they bury the dead man and claim the newfound baby as their own.

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A Chat with Ray Liotta (“Snowmen”)

Bullz-Eye: I was able to check out “Snowmen” – they sent me a screener – and it was a great little movie. My highest praise is that I’ve got a 6-year-old daughter, and I’d be comfortable with her watching it with me.

Ray Liotta: Yeah, it’s really a good movie, and it definitely…it’s more than just entertaining. It definitely touches on a lot of issues for grown-ups or kids.

BE: How did you find your way into the film?

RL: It just so happens that the producer has a kid in school where my kid goes, and they were gearing up and had cast all the kids, and they were thinking about the adult roles, and my name came up. We talked, he gave me the script, and I loved it and decided to do it.

BE: So how much of the character was on the page, and how much were you able to bring to the character?

RL: It was all on the page. All of it. It was really well written. I mean, my job is to make it as real as possible and try to add as much depth and dimension to it as I can. To pretend that I was a dad whose son was sick and thinks he’s going to die, the bills that I have to pay, the guilt that I have from just working too much to pay those bills, maybe missing some of the things that are going on in his life.

BE: How well did you and Bobby Coleman get on? You seemed to have a pretty strong father-son dynamic going on.

RL: Yeah, he’s a really special kid. He’s a really nice kid, and he’s been acting for awhile now. He’s just serious about the work, so he was very committed to every scene. He had done his homework and knew his lines, and he was raring to go. He was in the pocket. So it was easy. One of the great things when you work with a kid is that you really realize something that, as an  adult, you sometimes forget: you’re just playing pretend. He pretends that I’m his dad, and I pretend that he’s my son. You just play pretend, and that’s it. It’s nothing more or less than that.

BE: A film like “Snowmen” is one which may surprise some, since you’re not generally perceived as Ray Liotta, Family-Friendly Actor, but you’ve been doing family-friendly films as far back as “Corinna, Corinna” and “Operation Dumbo Drop.” Does that get frustrating, that people try to put you in a particular niche?

RL: Yeah, within the business, it gets frustrating. But then something like this comes along and you get a chance to do it. I did a movie with Tobey Maguire called “The Details,” and that’s a little more…I’m not a nutjob in that one. [Laughs.] See, what happens is that even if people see the movies – and I think it’s true with any actor who plays good guys and bad guys –  the bad guys just tend to stand out in people’s minds. You can’t expect everybody to see every movie you’ve done. I had one woman come up to me at the gym the other day, and she said, “Oh, my gosh, all you do is play bad guys. Why are you always such a bad guy? You scare me!” And I’m…I mean, I’m not going to sit there and list the movies that she hasn’t seen. It just kind of goes with the territory.

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