REVIEW: The Light Between Oceans (2016)

Theatrical Release Poster - Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Theatrical Release Poster – Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The following is a review of The Light Between Oceans – directed by Derek Cianfrance.

The Light Between Oceans – the newest drama from director Derek Cianfrance – is based on M. L. Stedman’s debut novel of the same name from 2012, and it stars Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz. Cianfrance has been known to bring out some pretty remarkable performances from his cast, and he once again succeeds in The Light Between Oceans. But it doesn’t come close to being as good as his last two films.

The Light Between Oceans is, for most of the film, set in the 1920s, and focuses on Tom (Fassbender) and Isabel (Vikander), a married couple that wants nothing more than to have a child together. Time and time again, they are unsuccessful. But one day, a rowboat carrying a small child washes up on Tom and Isabel’s lighthouse island. But the truth of the child’s past is about to tear their new family apart.

I am a big fan of both Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, and they were both some of my favorite films from the respective years they were released in. When I heard about Cianfrance’s next film I became super excited. Especially since two of my favorite actors right now are in it: Fassbender and Vikander.

So, basically, I had one of my favorite new directors, a cast that I loved, and a story that I found pretty interesting. So, yeah, I was looking forward to praising this film as the next big thing from Cianfrance. But I can’t. While there are some good elements in the film that kept me interested in the plot, there’s a lot to dislike here.

While I do prefer the first half of the film, there are some sequences that made me shake my head in disbelief. There’s a really dull sequence of Tom and Isabel writing letters to each other that did take me out of the film. Some of the early scenes are also just overlong.

As a whole, this definitely does feel like a two-hour movie – meaning that I think it will be tough to sit through again. Cianfrance goes to great lengths to set up Tom and Isabel’s relationship, and that does work, to be fair. But that is not to say that there weren’t scenes that felt tiresome.

The Light Between Oceans is, at times, drowning in sadness, which is to say that the filmmakers desperately want you to feel something. I know that that worked for some – including the person that I saw the film with – but I thought that it felt heavy-handed. It felt like the filmmakers didn’t trust in the audience to be affected by Weisz, Fassbender, and Vikander’s performances.

I also thought that the ending of the film was generally, and emotionally, inconsistent with the rest of the film. Cianfrance takes his time with the first two acts, and rushes through the third act with an ending that feels way too easy, when you consider what the film was leading up to.

Clearly, I have a lot of issues with the film. So, why am I still giving this film a somewhat ‘positive’ score if it didn’t manage to grab me emotionally? Well, I still kind of enjoyed it. It is a beautiful movie. It’s well-shot, and it is well-acted. Weisz was solid, and both Vikander and Fassbender were wonderful. Cianfrance got something special out of his two stars here, and Vikander and Fassbender showed great chemistry.

I think there is an audience for this film, and if this film was executed a little bit better, then I would have loved it from start to finish. Fans of Cianfrance, Fassbender, and Vikander should see this film. But I’m sad to say that this isn’t a must-watch film. It wasn’t quite the film I wanted it to be.

6.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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