Saturday 5 November 2016

Film Review: The Light Between Oceans

Derek Cianfrance returns with a touching romance set in a 1920's lighthouse on Australia's windswept southwest coast.

A shaken WWI soldier Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns from the Western front to take up the role of steward at Janus Rock, an isolated lighthouse that rests just off the coast of Western Australia. After falling in love and marrying a local girl, Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), the couple suffer two devastating lost pregnancies in three years - and begin to fear that they may never have a child of their own.

However, shortly afterward, a rowboat washes ashore near the lighthouse with a dead man and a frightened baby girl aboard. Tom and Isabel decide to keep the child and spare her from a life in an orphanage, choosing to not report their discovery to the authorities and instead passing the infant off as their own - after all, their isolation ensures no-one else is aware of Isabel's most recent miscarriage. However, their struggles with hiding the truth are only just starting to unfold.

Cianfrance is a director who empathically wears his heart on his sleeve; he isn't one to shy away from openly exhibiting emotion and jamming it into his films - just look at his work on Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines. This isn't a criticism, just an comment on the artist. Even though he isn't directing his own work here (the film is adapted from a novel written by Australian novelist ML Stedman), that melodramatic weepiness is delivered in spades thanks to Cianfrance's cinematic sensibilities soaking into every pore of this films existence.

If that doesn't sound like your jam, that's cool - The Light Between Oceans prides itself on its ability to make you choke up or cry fat globs of tears. At first that sees fairly harmless; all movies want to move you and make you feel things. But at a point it starts to feel a little bludgeoning as the story continues to throw new gut-wrenching developments into the pot in the hope that you'll still be sobbing desperately into your hankie. The runtime stretches to over 140 minutes and there are a few bits and bobs that could have been excised to trim it down, most notably the epilogue that feels like a rather unnecessary addendum to a story that already drew to a close.

If it weren't for two brilliant performances from Fassbender and Vikander, The Light Between Oceans would be a slog. Instead, their tender and warm chemistry (which fostered an off-screen romance) really sells the film as an intimate tale of two people caught between what they think and feel is right for each other and 'their' baby. Vikander in particular impressed me as the desolate mother clinging to the one thing that gives her something to live for, no matter how illogical it may seem in hindsight.

The third point in this impressive performance triangle (or pyramid? I don't know where this analogy is going) is Rachel Weisz as Hannah, a grieving widow who lost her husband and baby daughter at sea (you can see where this is going). Weisz is enjoying something of a purple patch of late; The Lobster and Youth have both been great for her and The Light Between Oceans keeps that trend going. Her performance, particuarly towards the third act when she is faced with a tough decision of her own, is some of her best work in years.

The gorgeous New Zealand scenery (Cianfrance shot on location in NZ instead of here in WA) is beautfiully framed by Cianfrance and his DP Adam Arkapaw. There are enough scarlet sunsets, crashing waves and windy beaches here to last a lifetime. A great score from Alexandre Desplat is the delicious icing on top.

The Verdict: 7/10

Cianfrance is a little too preoccupied with the melodrama to tell a concise and truly affecting story, but compelling performances from Vikander, Fassbender and Weisz anchor the film and ensure that it doesn't drift into stormy waters too much.

The Light Between Oceans is in cinemas across Australia now

1 comment:

  1. I didn't go see this in theaters because I wasn't sure if it was worth the ticket price. I think I'll throw it in my Netflix queue. Great review! I'm looking forward to the scenery of it.



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