Review - The Light Between Oceans
What a gorgeous-looking film The Light Between Oceans is. The cinematography on display here is some of the best I've seen all year. The movie itself isn't quite on the same level, but it still hits enough of the right notes and is consistently engaging due to the assured direction from Derek Cianfrance and the amazing cast front-lined by Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander.
The Light Between Oceans is a romantic drama based off of the book of the same name written by M.L. Stedman, and tells the story of Tom Sherbourne; a World War I veteran who takes a job at a lighthouse. During his stay, he falls for a young woman that lives on the mainland. They get married and after failing to have children; a screaming infant, along with the child's deceased father wash up in a small raft. They decide to bury the father's body and adopt the child as their own, but all turns out to not be right in the world.
The first half of this film is absolutely captivating. This is mainly due to the budding romance between Tom (Michael Fassbender) and Isabel (Vikander) and the exceptional cinematography and sound design that makes just about every scene post-card worthy. Every time these two actors were on the screen together sharing meaningful moments it just seemed real. If I had to bet, I would say this realism can partially be attributed to the fact that they started dating in real life during the production of this film. I just love that. I find it so refreshing to see a real romance on screen, as they are so few and far between these days. Seeing this relationship take shape in front of the beautiful backdrops of both New Zealand and Australia and accompanied by a serene and almost classical-sounding score by veteran Alexandre Desplat, makes this an even more appealing package.
The second half of this film, unfortunately, takes a bit of a dip. I appreciate the moral dilemma that Cianfrance sets up where you can see the logic behind Isabel and Tom's actions. Isabel has tragically not been able to have a child, and they are alone on an isolated island. A dead man and his crying infant wash up on shore and it seems like it was meant to be, but what do you do when you learn that the mother is alive and grieving? In tackling this plot development, the focus of the film drifts away from Tom and Isabel and puts more of a spotlight on their child's real mother (Rachel Weisz). Now, I don't want to discredit Wiesz, who again, gives a powerhouse performance and makes you fully believe that she is a grieving mother, but I just didn't find her arc as compelling.
There's also some unpleasant-to-watch dramatic beats that are presented in the second half that I felt could have been resolved if some of the characters had made more logical decisions. I did get a bit of a Nicholas Sparks vibe from some of these moments, only without the sappy nature that tends to go along with those film adaptations. What saves these moments in the end is each actor's ability to cry on command and act their absolute hearts out to sell a scene. I also didn't really care for how this film wrapped up. Everything started to move too quickly. It's not a bad conclusion by any stretch of the mind, but it could have been executed a little better.
Despite the second half of this film lagging a bit behind the first, I still found almost everything that happened in this film to be compelling, even if it lost a bit of the magic that it started out with. The Light Between Oceans is immensely impressive on a technical level and features outstanding performances, especially from it's two leads.