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Review: The Light Between Oceans – “Simply a beautiful film”

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An auteur is a director whose work is easily distinguishable – inclusive of style, theme and occasionally cast/crew choices. There are many new auteurs – the Coen brothers, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh – but few independent directors get that notice until much later in their career. Derek Cianfrance, the award-winning auteur behind Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines and now The Light Between Oceans, is one such name that has firmly asserted his stylistic and thematic choices.

Romances and “weepy” films tend to get regarded as low-brow entertainment – a division of the box office that’s often guaranteed an audience, but rarely holds much worth. The Light Between Oceans, based on the 2012 novel of the same name by M. L. Stedman, is one with tendencies from each genre/sub-genre, but is elevated to critical success thanks to wonderful direction and awards-worthy performances.

Cianfrance has always been able to get so much out his actors (and also lead them down romantic paths, thanks to his apparent shooting dating set-ups) – Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, Gosling, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn and Bradley Cooper in The Place Beyond The Pines, and now Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander in this. In all those films, there is an exceptional dramatic weight, and superb performances, at hand to lift his romantic and thrilling portrayals beyond what any Nicholas Sparks adaptation can manage. The Light Between Oceans is perhaps his most gut-wrenching story, with scene upon scene of distress and loss. That’s not to say it’s the ultimate emo flick, and the lighter moments (helped with the innate charisma of Fassbender and Vikander) are ebullient when they hit.

Cianfrance’s ability to control all these emotions, into a coherent and gripping story that takes place over a decade, is something few directors can manage. With only a limited number of features under his belt, he has shown that he is a natural born writer/director, who can shape something so tight, with a mountain of “mushy” mould. You’d need a strong heart and mind to watch a marathon of his films, but his filmography is certainly shaping up to be a wonderful one.

He’s also a master of casting, and with Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, he’s lined himself up once more for when Hollywood’s crème de la crème come calling. Not long after winning her first Oscar, Vikander could easily be considered for a second, with a staggeringly profound display of her talents. Alongside her real-life boyfriend, the chemistry is obviously tremendous, and Fassbender’s subtle and complex character is something he clearly loved playing. There is so much to gain from watching the pair – realism, warmth, and desolation so effortlessly represented. Rachel Weisz gets a sizeable role in the latter half of the film, but the two leads cast a long shadow over everyone. It is only, perhaps, the little girl, who outshines many of her co-stars, another example of Cianfrance’s ability to cast all ages. Ensembles in his films grow as his scope increases, and there is a definite life to all that inhabit his stories.

The narrative’s development through first encounters, miscarriages, and discovery (in an abandoned baby on a boat) is a lot of fuse together in just over 2 hours, but the film rarely feels like it drags. The ending is something that feels rather bland in comparison to the rest, but nonetheless realistic and low-key as the film on a whole. And if your attention ever withers with the story, there is the extraordinary cinematography and some great costumes on show. It’s simply a beautiful film; certainly one that deserves some attention and awards.

5-out-of-5

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