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Film Review: A baby causes trouble in “The Light Between Oceans”

Grade: A-

Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance does all he can to turn M.L. Stedman’s 2012 novel “The Light Between Oceans” into a beautifully reconstructed film adaptation of the same name. This 2016 film, starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, has all of the values as a powerfully romantic period drama; one that fills you with despair and loneliness at the beginning, but will have you cheering right until the very end. Led by a strong cast and crafty cinematography, the unknown Cianfrance lets the story run wild and will make you consider reading Stedman’s novel for more gripping details … if you haven’t already.

Set in post-World War I Australia, the story sheds light on the life of war veteran Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender), who is hired as a lightkeeper of a lighthouse on Janus Rock, a fictitious island off the coast of Western Australia. Fassbender does a wonderful job of exuding the loneliness a war veteran might experience after returning home from the front. Some might say Sherbourne had a form of post-traumatic stress disorder and the job was to help regain his sense of self. Nevertheless, when he is coupled — and married — to the young Isabel Graysmark (Vikander), the chemistry between Fassbender and Vikander begins to flourish and both feed off one another’s expressions and impulses. When an infant arrives at Janus Rock in an adrift dinghy, the story takes a sharp turn and eventually brings the mother of the baby Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz) into the mix. This creates a tug-and-pull type scenario between the three of them, leading to a dramatic conclusion of the story.

“The Light Between Oceans” brings a careful mix of vast visuals and emptiness to the big screen, but it also has a sense of family. Over the span of a few years, you see the two main characters blossom in love and unity and that made their unfortunate – and perhaps unlikely – situation even harder to swallow.

Thankfully, the story was shot in Western Australia, so this offered some fantastic views for camera operators to play around with. What you also get is a romance story that’s unparalleled by others, considering that Fassbender and Vikander became a real life couple during shooting and as they experience the wondrous nature and unforgivingness of their Edenic island, they seem to build stronger relationships in and out of character.

What you get from this film is a sense of family and that’s something special considering the trailers for the film make you enter the theater expecting to be view a Nicholas Sparks-type romantic drama. It’s true that “The Light Between Oceans” is romantic, but it’s much more than that. It’s adventurous, thrilling and sublime in many ways. It makes you wish you were born in a different time period, where lighthouses were necessary for seafaring pursuits and life, in general, was slower than it is today.

Cianfrance, who is now 42, has only come onto the Hollywood scene in the last six years, so let’s hope we can see more of his skills in action in the future. Right now, let’s marvel at his latest creation, which is certainly his greatest thus far.

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