Based on the heart-wrenching novel by author M. L. Stedman, the period drama of ‘The Light Between Oceans’ boasts not only a well-acted cast, but also an emotional and generally-effective story of loss, loyalty, and love, all in hopes of delivering a worthy adaptation for the Fall season. Ultimately fluttering high above my thin expectations, its leading couple shedding off some of their best performances and its riveting tale crawling deeper and deeper into the hearts of its audience, this semi-melodramatic tear-jerker is a sheer joy for any moviegoer seeking dynamic performances and a wholesome journey into the past.
As the violent and haunting images of World War I slowly fade from his mind, war veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) finds himself seeking seclusion from the world on an island off the coast of Western Australia. Working as the local lighthouse keeper, the sole surveyor over what is known as a beacon of hope and guidence for the ocean’s voyagers, the soft-spoken Tom finds solace in his loneliness. It isn’t until he meets Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander) that Tom realizes that he cannot live his entire life alone. Quickly beginning a new life together on the island, one that is met at first with youthful vibrance and later with tragedy, the couple is soon faced with a powerful ultimatum, when a ship-wrecked child washes up on their shores. Tested by their faith and resolve as the child’s real mother quickly discovers their actions, the couple must do whatever it takes to retain the one thing that redefined their endearing love.
Settling in for another lengthy tear-jerker that was sure to either entrance me with overwhelming emotion or simply bore me for two or more hours, ‘The Light Between Oceans’ was an ideal example of a film that could’ve dragged on with endless exposition, but in the end, effortlessly escalated its endearing and tragic tale at a forgiving and enjoyable pace. Fueled by its well-versed cast — including two of my favorite actors in Hollywood today — and its dramatic display of detail and storytelling, ‘The Light Between Oceans’ managed to be one of the most effective novel-to-film adaptations of this year. While I may not endlessly seek out intriguing novels that are suddenly made into films, my most recent ventures into dramatic book adaptations — from the captivating tale of last year’s ‘Room’ to the period-piece epic of ‘Testament of Youth’ — have ceased to derail my attention from the methodical process of bringing the page to the silver screen. With ‘Oceans’, I still have faith that skilled screenwriters and directors are capable of making these stories ever-compelling in the theater.
Apart from being a well-tuned book adaptation — its clever style of storytelling shining through as writer and director Derek Cianfrance places subtle hints of literary methods into the film — ‘The Light Between Oceans’ also displayed a fantastic display of performances. Led by two dominating actors of the current Hollywood scene — Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander — the film pits its characters into a realm of both tragedy and loneliness, ultimately digging up some of the actors’ best performances. From Fassbender’s war-torn soldier seeking solitude from the world to Vikander’s feverish yet calculated take on a woman whose lost all hope of ever having a child, the two deliver a raw and riveting combination that works phenomenally to bolster the film’s dynamic drama. Working on more levels than one, as the two skilled actors display not only their affection for each other on-screen, but off-screen as well, the compelling performances of Fassbender and Vikander are strengthened ever-so-slightly by their raw emotions as a real-life couple.
As for the remainder of the cast, while the young actress who played the child torn between two families may have stolen the show with her brutal innocence as her life is tossed between oceans, the true praise has to go to actress Rachel Weisz. Delivering a heart-breaking performance as the mother who lost her child at sea, only to find her wrapped in the arms of complete strangers, Weisz once again showed me just how skilled an actress she truly is. While I may not have seen many of her films, other than her recent ventures into action and fantasy films like ‘The Bourne Legacy’ and ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’, the actress’ most recent work in last year’s quirky make-shift comedy ‘The Lobster’ got me interested in the actress again. Tossing out the absurd and bleak hilarity of The Lobster for a heart-wrenching role as a child-less mother in desperate search for answers, Weisz shined even against the intense power of the film’s leading couple.
While it may dive into the melodramatic a number of times — its reliance on pulling the heartstrings of its audience keeping the film’s tone at a mostly somber and depressing altitude — The Light Between Oceans delivered a phenomenally-gripping tale that worked to transcend not only its effective cast, but also its intuitive method of bringing the literary to a visually-pleasing cinematic platform. Fortified by captivating performances from two of my must-watch Hollywood actors today — and one actress whose work continues to intrigue me — and basked in a visual palette common among art-house dramas such as this, ‘The Light Between Oceans’ is a film that definitely has me intrigued to see how it fares come award season.
I gave ‘The Light Between Oceans’ a 7 out of 10 for its calculated and endearing performances, its breath-taking ocean-side cinematography, and its memorable score from French composer Alexandre Desplat. If you’re looking for a good cry session off the coast of war-era Australia after a week of dull and laborious work, this might be the film for you.