Many tales have been told about the effects solitude has on a person, even more so about the effects war has on a person - but never has one combined the two to create a story of love, life and a fateful kidnapping. In the hands of director Derek Cianfrance (‘Blue Valentine’), M.L. Stedman’s best-selling novel ‘The Light Between Oceans’ has become a five-alarm tissue-fest filled with stunning visuals, heart-wrenching performances and melodrama as far as the eye can see. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender, ‘Shame’) is a quiet soul in search of some much-deserved peace in the wake of World War I. When he takes up the position of lighthouse keeper on the remote island of Janus Rock, 100 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia, he never thought that that’s exactly where he’d find love. Meeting, corresponding with and marrying the beautiful Isabel (Alicia Vikander, ‘The Danish Girl’) the pair live their loving, passionate life together on the island. But when tragedy threatens their happiness, fate intervenes and washes ashore a dinghy with the body of a man and a crying baby girl inside. When a desperate Isabel convinces her reluctant husband to raise the baby as their own, the decision haunts Tom for years and sets off circumstances that will devastate all involved.
With the aid of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (‘True Detective’), Cianfrance has turned New Zealand’s south island into the west coast of Australia in the most stunning way possible. But here’s the problem: when people talk about a film and the first things they refer to are the visuals, the genetically-blessed leads and the fact that they fell in love off screen as well as on, it’s not a good sign.
While the film and the story start strong with its instant chemistry between our lovebirds with their burgeoning passion and epic love story, it’s the second act that loses its footing once it introduces our third key character played by Rachel Weisz (‘The Lobster’, ‘The Constant Gardener’). Every conceivable outcome gets explored, often in a hasty and haphazard manner as it seems that too many cooks may have added their two cents to the pot. Also, in strange direction, with the crux of the film being the two ladies fighting for motherhood, this whole saga seems to be told from Tom’s point of view, giving neither lady the proper in-depth backstory or attention they deserve.
When people talk about a film and the first things they refer to are the visuals... it’s not a good sign.
‘The Light Between Oceans’ is clearly elevated by its scenery, cinematography and powerhouse performances, but the film as a whole suffers under its melodrama and messiness. There’s a great story here, it’s just not told as well as it should have been.