The Light Between Oceans movie poster
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The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans movie poster

The Light Between Oceans Movie Review

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD (Buy on Amazon)

Slit your wrist. Read a letter. Watch the waves crash against the shore. The Light Between Oceans is a sad, depressing and thoughtful tale about shattered love that seems ripped from another era. It’s also beautifully directed and wonderfully acted.

Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) wrote and directed this adaptation of the M.L. Stedman novel I’ve never read, let alone heard of, a movie that takes its time to develop its characters and their relationships, and then reaches into your chest cavity like that not-so-nice dude from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, rips out your heart and squeezes as you watch everything you know and love melt away in mere seconds. It’s a movie that is depressing as hell.

But that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

Real-life love nuggets Michael Fassender (12 Years a Slave) and Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)--whose relationship presumably was kickstarted by being stuck on a remote New Zealand island for nearly six weeks--are great in their respective roles. Both capture and exude the various emotions their characters experience extremely well, and their love for each other feels real and effortless. And when things go south, neither backs away from the challenge.

Rachel Weisz also turns in one of her best performances in recent memory, even if she is hampered by a character who is near-crazy after having lost her husband and daughter at sea years earlier. It’s not easy to pull off a character like that without making her obnoxious or inaccessible, but Weisz succeeds.

Equally impressive are the visuals. Shot at the Cape Campbell lighthouse in New Zealand, Cianfrance captures the isolation and beauty of the location. Though one of the film’s biggest problems is its running time--Cianfrance gets caught up in the moment too often, letting scenes and segments drag on too long at the price of pace and succinct storytelling--there’s no arguing that The Light Between Oceans looks and sounds fantastic. You feel like you’re on the island, the waves crashing outside and the wind howling around you.

The movie isn’t perfect, however. As previously mentioned, the film feels long--it’s two hours and 12 minutes, and given the story it easily could have been shorter. There’s a fair amount of letter-reading (literally), another aspect that makes the movie feel like it’s something out of a period film from the 80’s or 90’s. And while there’s no easy way to avoid this, the two female leads in the picture both come off as sort of off their respective rockers--thank God there are men around to remain even-keeled in the face of desperate emotion. The whole alleged murder bit also feels contrived; perhaps this is fleshed out more in the book, but it isn’t convincing on screen.

The Light Between Oceans is at times powerful, certainly emotional, and superbly acted and directed. It’s a beautiful film, but it’s also a movie that is immensely depressing in ways that won’t win over everyone. It’s not exceptional, but it’s another solid piece of work from Cianfrance. Recommended, as long as you’re not susceptible to slitting your wrists.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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