Blu-ray Review: The Light Between Oceans

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The Light Between Oceans, now available on Blu-ray from Disney, is a dour romantic drama based on the book of the same name by M. L. Stedman. Director Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines) has crafted a very beautiful film, visually speaking. The two-hour-plus running time, however, tests the limits of the thin plot. Having not read the book, I've no idea how it reads, but the adaptation (also Cianfrance) could've used a little more meat on its bones.

As depressing a tales as Light presents, the acting is strong and Cianfrance's direction exhibits a sense of restraint that keeps the material from tipping into melodrama. Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is a PTSD-stricken World War I vet who wants nothing more than solitude. He takes a job tending a lighthouse on Janus Rock, a remote (and fictional) location on the coast of Western Australia. He meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander), they fall in love, get married, and live together on the tiny island. They soon find that they are going to have trouble starting a family.

We're set up for a character study, however we never really get inside these two people's minds. Besides Tom being haunted by his wartime memories, he comes across as a reserved, somewhat uptight guy and not much more. It's a testament to Fassbender's magnetism that Tom is of any interest at all. As Isabel, Vikander has even less to work with. Cianfrance makes Tom the focal point, leaving Vikander struggling to make something out of her poorly-defined character. There are certainly deep emotions to be mined given Isabel's plight.

Given the relative dearth of plot, it's necessary to issue a spoiler alert moving forward. It's not easy to discuss Light without divulging a fair amount of the key story developments. The film's first act is dominated by two pregnancies that end in miscarriage. Needless to say, Isabel and Tom are devastated. The crux of the drama centers on a baby who washes ashore in a small boat. For Tom and Isabel, it seems their prayers have been answered. They make the incredibly selfish choice to keep the baby, assuming it has been orphaned, and raise it as their own. Matters become deeply complicated when Tom becomes aware that "their" baby's actual birth mother Hannah (Rachel Weisz) is alive and deeply mourning the daughter who disappeared. 
Light Between Oceans BD (299x380).jpg Light may have been more effective had it been told from Hannah's point of view. Weisz enters the picture a little too late for her perspective to factor in significantly. Instead Cianfrance wants us to sympathize primarily with Mr. and Mrs. Sherbourne. A more balanced approach might've added some much needed emotional complexity.

Disney's Blu-ray makes the most Adam Arkapaw's rich cinematography with a gorgeous 1080p transfer. Audio is DTS-HD MA 7.1 and again it's beautiful. The special features are a bit light, with audio commentary by Cianfrance and Phil Solomon (a film studies professor) and two fairly brief featurettes ("Bringing The Light To Life" and "Lighthouse Keeper").

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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