Much like 2012’s The Place Beyond The Pines, Derek Cianfrance’s new offering, The Light Between Oceans, is a mixture of beautiful sunset landscapes, slow fades and a well-timed soundtrack to accompany the meandering drama that takes place around a lighthouse in post-WWI Australia. The film is surprisingly quick to establish the relationship between lighthouse-keeper Tom (Fassbender) and local islander Isabel (Vikander) early on in the story, despite the fairly long runtime.
The build-up of their relationship – shown in a montage of exchanges of letters and shots of the pair building a life together – gradually give way to Isabel’s growing despair at being childless, which sets the film up for the second act. This is where The Light Between Oceans hits its stride, with tension growing rapidly over the guilt that comes with keeping the baby of a dead stranger that washes up on the shore. Vikander and Fassbender show these stresses well, and the idea of taking a baby for their own is a surprisingly dark but welcome addition to the well-trodden postwar melodrama narrative.
However, this tension is mostly eliminated in the third act. The film outstays its welcome by at least half an hour as it meticulously ties up every loose end it can, leaving us feeling like the story that was so interesting and had so many places to go just fizzled out, rather than ending with a conclusion that matched the tone of the rest of the film.
The Light Between Oceans is a visually impressive film that begins with good intentions which become captivating midway through. It is let down, however, by a final act that fails to draw to a strong and resolute close, leaving a feeling of dissatisfaction as the credits roll.
CAST: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Florence Clery
DIRECTOR: Derek Cianfrance
WRITERS: Derek Cianfrance (screenplay), M.L. Stedman (novel)
SYNOPSIS: A lighthouse-keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat.
First published on 1 September 2016 as part of One Room With A View’s coverage of the Venice Film Festival.