With huge dramatic expanses of ocean and island - cliff, beach and coastal scenes - it would be understandable to feel that cinematography could be the star of this film. The score, with beautifully placed original music written and conducted by Academy Award winning French film composer Alexander Desplat, and with sounds of storms and sea and silence, sits easily up there alongside it.
From an original best selling Australian novel by M. L. Stedman, the screenplay starts purposefully slow, creating a sense of the isolation and loneliness that life as a the trusted employee of the Commonwealth of Australia, alone at a lighthouse might create.
Yet beyond the cinematography, score, and screenplay, the lead actor is indeed the shining star. Michael Fassbender (Tom) is extraordinary in this role. His acting honed, perceptive, subtle, authentic, beyond the role, and of the era, and is as close as you can get to perfection.
The divisions between his love of being a father and his fear of what he has done to others slowly become perceptible in every sinew of Fassbender’s body. “I’m very proud of his performance,” says screen writer and director Cianfrance.
“He shows you Tom as a beacon of security and safety, yet also someone who is very scared. I think Michael is one of very few actors who could do that simultaneously… who could hold steadfast to this exterior shell of Tom while also letting you see what is unraveling inside him.”
On the most part, Alicia Vikander (Isabel) delivers a more than convincing performance with her real life partner. It niggled though. Her stand-alone tan, in a role and at a time, when a woman would have done everything to protect the purity of her white skin. Likewise, cast as an Aussie, with a dad and sister with Aussie accents, the English accent of Rachel Weisz, (Hannah) despite attempts to quell it, seemed misplaced. Also perhaps out of alignment is the inset of "Waltzing Matilda" as the first wedding dance. Was this to please an international audience? These however are relatively little things.
There are some big iconic Aussie names in this cast, Bryan Brown, Jack Thomsen. And their performances are predictably as iconic Aussie as you might expect. Yet from the remaining cast, the highlight for me was the astute profile of Garry McDonald in the role of Isabel’s father. This brilliant casting and its extension on screen was superb.
Inside this storytelling, there is no rush. There is all the time in the world. And slowly, slowly The Light Between Oceans builds into a dramatic and touching trilogy of choices and consequences. Yet the thing that struck me, and was most profound in this film, and finally moved me to tears, was the underlying themes of love, sacrifice, ethics and forgiveness.
If you are not a regular cinema-goer, and prefer to download or watch on TV, don’t. Not for this one. Well at least not as your first viewing. You’ll miss the magnificence if you don’t see this one on the big screen.
The Light Between Oceans opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday November 3rd.