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Three Views: The Light Between Oceans

September 2, 2016

The Light Between Oceans Review By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The Light Between Oceans PosterFollowing his gritty breakup drama Blue Valentine, and the enthralling but vastly underrated crime saga The Place Beyond the Pines, The Light Between Oceans is an interesting film in terms of young director Derek Cianfrance’s filmography.

An adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s bestselling novel, The Light Between Oceans is an old fashioned period romance, and easily the indie filmmaker’s most widely accessible work yet.  But the one common thread between all three of these films are the excellent performances that he gets out of his leads, and the material here is elevated by the central trio of Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz, who all deliver solid dramatic work.

The story takes place in the 1920s, and follows Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a soldier who returns from the war and decides to live a life of solitude as a lighthouse keeper off the coast of Australia.  When he falls in love with the young Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), they get married and she moves to the island with him, but complications ensue when they try to start a family.  After a pair of miscarriages, the heartbroken couple find a dead man and a baby girl floating in a rowboat, and they decide to raise the lost child as their own.

But when they return to the mainland, Tom meets Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), a woman who was struck by tragedy when her husband and baby daughter were lost at sea a few years before.  Tom and Isabel struggle with whether to reveal the truth, which would mean giving up the child they have raised, so that she could be reunited with her birth mother.  Although The Light Between Oceans can be slow moving at a lengthy 132 minutes, and the story sometimes dips into melodramatic territory, the film is always enjoyable to watch, thanks to the solid technical elements and performances.

Michael Fassbender is in fine form here as the brooding romantic lead, with his signature intensity simmering beneath the surface, as his character faces tough moral decisions.  Following her Oscar-winning supporting work in The Danish Girl, Alicia Vikander delivers another impressive dramatic performance, capably handling her character’s emotional arc as we head towards the climax.  Rachel Weisz rounds out this parental triangle of sorts with an affecting performance as a woman struggling with what’s really best for her young daughter.

The actors are complimented by handsome production values, and The Light Between Oceans is all beautifully filmed, with Adam Arkapaw’s sumptuous cinematography offering sweeping images of the ocean and island landscapes that help make the film worth seeing.

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The Light Between Oceans Picture 1

Tom (Michael Fassbender) and Isabel (Alicia Vikander) in The Light Between Oceans

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The Light Between Oceans Review By Erin Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Based on the book by M. L. Stedman, The Light Between Oceans takes place in the early 1920s.  Michael Fassbender stars as Tom, a WWI veteran who tries to escape his emotional pain from the war by taking an isolated job as a lighthouse keeper.  On his sporadic trips to the mainland though, he meets a young woman named Isabel (Alecia Vikander) and as they exchange letters back and forth from the lighthouse, they fall in love.

Soon after, they marry and she comes to live at the lighthouse, but after a series of miscarriages, Isabel becomes increasingly depressed, leaving Tom at a loss of what to do.  It is then, that as though a timed miracle after losing their own babies, a newborn shows up adrift on a small boat.  After rescuing the child, Tom wants to report the find, but Isabel insists the child must be orphaned and they should raise her as their own.  They name her Lucy, but as she grows into a toddler, Tom soon realizes that the birth mother is very much alive and grieving the loss of her baby on the mainland.

The Light Between Oceans is a period melodrama with characters that toe an interesting moral line, and despite what we may think is the right option, it’s engaging to watch them try to grapple with the choices they make.  This story could easily have dragged, and felt like a film full of romantic and emotional cliches, but what sets it apart, is the strong performances from everyone in the cast – including the young girl who plays Lucy (Florence Clery).  Both Fassbender and Vikander give emotional yet still understated performances as the couple caught between a moral line, while Rachel Weisz ably handles the role of Lucy’s birth mother.

The film features gorgeous cinematography with ocean views and soft lighting, and really shines on a theatre screen for that.  The score by Alexandre Desplat also elevates the picture and keeps it engaging, with his classic and sweeping touch perfectly matched here.  While the film is 2 hours, 12 minutes, if you are prepared for the slow pacing, it feels ok here.  For fans of the book, and those new to the story, The Light Between Oceans is worth seeing if you are looking for a well-done romantic drama.  I have not read the book, and personally enjoyed the film quite a bit more than I thought I would going in.  Especially if you like the main cast, it’s worth taking a chance on this one.

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The Light Between Oceans Picture 2

Tom (Michael Fassbender) and Isabel (Alicia Vikander) in The Light Between Oceans

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The Light Between Oceans Review By Maureen Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The Light Between Oceans is a beautifully filmed adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s 2012 bestseller of the same name, and having enjoyed the novel a while back, this film was one I was looking forward to seeing.  The result is a faithful to the source material period piece melodrama, that boasts solid performances from the leads, beautiful cinematography of the Western Australian coast, and a lovely score by Alexandre Desplat.

Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a man looking to find internal peace after returning from active duty in WWI France.  A position as lighthouse keeper on Janus Island seems to be exactly what Tom needs to heal.  His plans for solitude change when he meets a local young woman, the free-spirited Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), who persuades him to marry her and begin a new life together at the island lighthouse.  Life seems idyllic for the couple, until Isabel experiences an overwhelming sense of isolation and depression after the loss of her two pregnancies.

So when a rowboat washes ashore with a dead man and a crying baby girl on board, it seems like a miracle, a gift from God, meant just for them.  Tom knows he has to report all of this to the mainland, yet Isabel convinces him that this was all meant to be.  So out of love for his wife, Tom makes the morally ambiguous decision to raise the little girl, Lucy (Florence Clery), as their own.  However, secrets have a way of revealing themselves.  On a visit back to the mainland, Tom meets Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), who is grieving the loss of her husband and baby daughter Grace, who were lost at sea.  Tom is faced with a difficult moral dilemma.

What works in The Light Between Oceans is the solid acting and chemistry between the leads.  There are no weak performances here, and even the young actress who plays the four year old Lucy/Grace gives a charming and completely natural performance.  With lesser actors, The Light Between Oceans could have felt like a mediocre romantic melodrama.  The other factor that makes this in an enjoyable theatre experience is the cinematography.  The landscape of the ocean and the isolated island lighthouse really set the tone for the story.

This, coupled with Alexandre Desplat’s moody score, elevated the story making it for me more enjoyable than the book.  If you’ve read the book, it’s worth seeing the film, and even if you haven’t read it, fans of Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz will want to check it out.

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Consensus: An adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s bestselling novel, The Light Between Oceans is an old fashioned period piece that runs a bit long, but is worth seeing for the beautiful cinematography and excellent performances from Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz. ★★★ (out of 4)

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