An Australian World War I veteran named Tom (Michael Fassbender) takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on an isolated island. He meets his future wife, Isabel (Alicia Vikander), at the nearest coastal town, and the two begin their new life alone at the lighthouse. Once settled, a lifeboat washes ashore with a newborn inside, and the couple raise the infant as their own.
There aren’t too many actors bigger right now than Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. It was inevitable that they would both be in a film together. In this case, they are in a romance film based on a novel with the same name. This wasn’t exactly my first guess but it kind of makes sense. The two make a believable relationship and they looked good together in the trailers. The film looked to offer more than just their relationship, however, as it featured some great shots of Australia and New Zealand.
The two can be doing just about anything but here they play husband and wife. Tom (Fassbender), a lighthouse keeper, along with his wife Isabel (Vikander) live on a secluded island. Tom and Isabel so desperately want to start a family but after several failed attempts, they begin to lose hope. Things quickly change for them as a lifeboat containing a newborn baby washes onto shore. Thinking that nobody will ever know, they choose to raise the baby as their own.
While Tom and Isabel were eventually supposed to be together, the way they got there did feel forced, almost overemphasizing the fact that they were meant to be together. This was a minor complaint. What made it all work was Tom and Isabel’s excellent chemistry (which did not come as much of a surprise). This gave their relationship a further level of believability and made them compelling to watch together. Because this is a romance film after all, the film often took this too far at times, making it feel a little sappy and melodramatic (with Fassbender and Vikander, it’s not so bad).
The first half of the film served to establish Tom and Isabel’s relationship but poorly developed each of them individually, especially Tom as his past played a large role later in the film. This half was mostly on the slow side but the film started to get more interesting once the baby showed up. This took the film in a more fascinating direction as the decision whether or not to keep the baby and the repercussions from that decision had a large impact on their relationship. Seeing this be played out on screen was fun to watch, from the moment they found the newborn to when their seemingly perfect life began to unravel.
It began to unravel as we learned about the newborn’s actual mother, a woman named Hannah (Rachel Weisz) who thought she had lost her husband and daughter at sea. We know the truth but she doesn’t quite know the truth. This created some suspense as we didn’t know whether or not she would learn the truth or Tom and Isabel would get away with that they did. Maybe the knowledge of the newborn’s actual mother would be the reason for their downfall. This was thrilling to watch.
The acting was very strong with here with Fassbender and Vikander being the standouts, unsurprisingly. Both performances showed a great amount of range as they demonstrated the emotional highs and lows of their relationship. It was easy to see how Tom and Isabel were in love. It was also easy to believe what each of them was feeling throughout the film. Weisz was strong as well despite being underutilized as Hannah. Each lead was great at conveying emotion so we could empathize with the characters even though they were coming from different backgrounds.
This was a beautiful film to look at thanks to the amazing cinematography, from all the outdoor shots to those of the lighthouse and the ocean. Instead of distracting from the story, these shots improved it as they added to the whimsical nature of the film’s love story. The music also worked along those lines. The mostly piano score accentuated the emotion of the story, although again being too much during the film’s melodramatic moments.
Overall, this was a good romance film, occasionally falling victim to its genre, and led by strong performances and amazing cinematography.