Stellar performance with masterful cinematography, this film is more of an experience for the cine-aficionado than your regular popcorn popping, bubble gum chewing moviegoer. Will it get nominated for an Oscar?
Two men enter, one man leave…. wait no, that’s a Mad Max film.
“The Lighthouse,” from Robert Eggers (The Witch, 2015) is entirely different, but there are some similarities to the Thunderdome. Two men on an island does have an ominous atmosphere at times where you feel like you are in the Thunderdome cage in between the two warring main characters, Thomas Wake (Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson). Their task is to make sure the lighthouse is shining for traveling ships off the coast of Maine set in 1890. If you are the new arrival, like Ephraim, then your job is to do pretty much anything Thomas orders you to do in-between his drunken rants and bouts of flatulence.
— The Lighthouse (@LighthouseMovie) October 7, 2019
Ephraim steps off the boat onto a stark and rocky island. He’s scheduled to stay as a lighthouse attendant for a month but comes to find out that Thomas is actually in charge of the lighthouse as he gets relegated to doing the grunt work. Unfortunately, that includes emptying out the bed pans, hauling wood, and maintenance.
Relations between the two start out well enough with Thomas insisting that they share dinner together each night at the same table and making some effort to get to know each other. Both men become friendly with each other as much as can be expected by two who really have nothing in common but the lighthouse. Even when Thomas tries to entice Ephraim into breaking regulations and drinking with him, the stark contrast between the two becomes even more evident. One is there willingly, and maybe the other is not? Then a storm blows in causing their departure to be delayed. Knowing they have to continue to suffer each other’s company leads to more tension especially since Ephraim starts drinking alongside Thomas.
The final breaking point is when the rum runs dry and they resort to drinking souped up kerosene. Is the booze causing hallucinations or is there something supernatural about the island?
For the first time in more than 1500 film reviews I am using the descriptor, tour de force, to describe the performance from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. It’s easily one of the most compelling and dynamic performances that I have seen. Not just this year, or the past few years, but ever.
Though Pattinson in my book has more than proved his talent with “Good Times” and “The Rover” not everyone has seen those films and still think of him as the sparkling vampire from “Twilight.” His performance is magnetic alongside Dafoe.
Whether it is a combination of the two of them playing off of each other, the quality of the writing, the cinematography, the entire package is just a wondrous losing of one’s self in their performances.
Robert Pattinson’s performance in this role should once and for all silence the naysayers as to his ability to act with range and cinematic presence that isn’t based on sexual appeal. He truly is remarkable.
Dafoe should be nominated for Best Actor. It’s close, but he out performs Pattinson. It’s not supposed to be a race between the leads, but if it was it would be a photo-finish for me with Willem Dafoe edging Robert Pattinson out. His ability to deliver the old English lines, the expressions, the physical performance etc all just fall into a category of skill that is unmatched. He was spectacular as the maintenance supervisor in 2018’s “The Florida Project” which was a great performance piece but didn’t have a succinct story like Eggers’s “The Lighthouse.”
“The Lighthouse” is a masterpiece that firmly cements Robert Eggers as an incredible writer and director. His first film, “The Witch” was an amazing horror film that really set the bar high for the genre, and in this, his second, set it even higher. The fable of two men coming to odds with their environment fueled by alcohol, and their descent into violent madness is an absolute cinematic experience that you must see in a theater.
The cinematography both evokes a life-like atmosphere where you absolutely could almost smell the sea, and feel the water pelting you in the face during the storm (the sound design is awesome), all despite being shot in black and white and in an old time format is vastly remarkable.
The performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson will long be remembered as commanding and nuanced.
But what truly stands at the highest peak is the ability that Eggers presents as a director telling a story with the film medium. The shot sequences with his director of photography, Jarin Blaschke, are outstanding. The images, the time that is spent setting up scenes, the quiet moments in between dialogue, and then those violent sequences of when the characters go at each other just resound as one of the best performances, well shot, directed, written, etc films of the year.
Screened at the secret screening at 2019’s Fantastic Fest in Austin Texas, at Alamo Drafthouse. The film hits theaters on October 18, 2019.
Film is shot at a 1.19:1 aspect ratio and is in black and white.
- Incredible Acting
- Tantalizing Story
- Does not have widespread appeal