Not having seen a full trailer for The Light Between Oceans, I absolutely did not expect the dark twist director Derek Cianfrance had up his sleeve. And that’s part of what makes this movie worth the ride.
Based on the 2012 novel written by M. L. Stedman, The Light Between Oceans is a drama that tells the tale of a lighthouse keeper, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), that finds the job after World War I. Sherbourne served as a soldier and hinted throughout the film that he killed a number of men, which added to the suspense of whether his early days of isolation as a keeper would cause him to go insane. At a dinner early on in the film, Captain Ralph Addicott (Jack Thompson) and other men remind Sherbourne that the previous keeper died from a bout of “cabin fever.” Not exactly the confidence booster the young soldier was looking for, but he soon forgets as he locks eyes with Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander).
The film immediately jumps headfirst into romantic montages of Isabel and Tom sending letters back and forth. As Cianfrance took the audience through that montage and a previous sequence of Sherbourne battling with loneliness, it became clear that Cianfrance’s eye for cinematography was quite captivating. There’s no lack of lush colors coupled with the warmth of the sun, while the night sky filled the theater with stars I almost wanted to reach out and grab. The Light Between Oceans provided a visual spectacle for the full 132 minutes.
However, the beautiful cinematography couldn’t save moments in the film where the dialogue wasn’t hitting strides. I get it, Sherbourne was war-torn, mother-less and raised by a strict father. But even after he tells his lover that she “made him feel again,” Fassbender was limited to one or two short sentences with barely any emotion as the camera held still.
There’s no telling whether Fassbender did an exceptional job of fleshing out his role, or just a good one. He was written to be a … safe character. It didn’t allow Fassbender to explore too much of Tom Sherbourne.
Vikander stunned me with her moments of despair, love and genuine emotion. The young actress recently had a role in Jason Bourne and fell flat, but Vikander picked up the pieces and created a beautiful representation of a wife who truly wanted a family, no matter what shortcomings came along her way.
The area where The Light Between Oceans excels is throwing the crowd a curveball in each act. I found my jaw dropped in moments, rage in my eyes in others — boy, for a film I took as another Nicholas Sparks book on the Silver Screen, it proved me wrong.
There’s a dark road this film travels down as the film hits its climax. I don’t want to spoil too much, but Tom and Isabel find a baby in a boat washed ashore. It begins to spiral out of control thereafter for the two young lovers.
I welcomed the unique conflict the movie threw at audience members. In scenes where most say, “Aww,” there was silence. That’s because the conflict provided you with a choice to be happy for the new family, or hate how they came to be. Unfortunately, if you’ve seen one romantic drama, you’re most likely going to predict how this one will unravel.
From the music (composed by Alexandre Desplat), beautiful costume design and set pieces, it felt more mature than any Sparks film to date. In some scenes it may be reaching for an Oscar, but I was pleased to see the film be able to breathe within its runtime.
And, for the record, I didn’t cry, but I was close at the end. It’s something about grown men becoming teary-eyed. Hey! Who put these onions here?!
The Light Between Oceans has a runtime of 132 minutes and is rated PG-13. I was given the chance to attend an advanced screening thanks to Sly Fox. The film premieres Friday, Sept. 2 in North America.