The Light Between Oceans – Review (** 1/2)

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Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) serves up a significant disappointment with his latest feature, a lavishly mounted and well acted adaptation of M. L. Stedman’s novel that nevertheless can’t escape its own comically overwrought trappings.

World War I veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) gets a job as a lighthouse keeper on a small island off the Australian coast. He quickly falls for and marries a local woman, Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), but after their attempts to have a child end in tragedy, they find a baby washed up in a rowing boat on the nearby beach. The couple takes the baby girl in as their own, though soon enough her real mother, Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), steps forward.

Though Cianfrance’s latest is probably one of the year’s most beautifully photographed movies and benefits from sizzling chemistry between Fassbender and Vikander (who reportedly fell in love for real on set), it’s also probably the year’s most exhaustingly-paced film to get a major theatrical release.

While clocking in at a seemingly reasonable 133 minutes, Light ends up feeling closer to three hours due to Cianfrance’s slavish devotion to painstakingly lingering on images and including numerous superfluous scenes in his final cut.

The dramatic crux of the film already given away in trailers doesn’t occur for around half the movie, which only makes the film feel like even more of a slog, though the listless, sluggish pacing illustrates that fact just fine itself too.

The narrative is compelling to a point but ultimately shot though with too much feeling; every revelation has to result in an hysterical breakdown, and frankly it become exhausting and tiresome after a while.

There’s also a major issue here in that all three central characters are relatively unlikable, especially Vikander’s Isabel. While a movie confronting challenging characters is no bad thing, the fact that the movie quite clearly doesn’t want us to think of them as assholes but rather complex people, suggests a major failure of intent from both Cianfrance and the performers.

By film’s end, the response from this viewer wasn’t of tearful uplift as the writer-director clearly desired, but rather a feeling of fatigue and relief that the maudlin drama was done.

One of the year’s most disappointing films to date though hardly less than watchable when regarded on its own terms, The Light Between Oceans is Cianfrance’s first misstep as a filmmaker, though will hardly deter most fans from checking out his next project.

** 1/2

The Light Between Oceans is in cinemas now

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