Monday, August 22, 2016

Rapid Reviews: The Light Between Oceans and Hell or High Water

August is coming to a close and that means the summer blockbuster lineup will begin to give way to fall and winter's slate of starry-eyed Oscar hopefuls. One such film comes from ambitious auteur, Derek Cianfrance, an indie success story whose 2010 film, Blue Valentine, landed Michelle Williams an Oscar nomination. a pair of years later the director returned with The Place Beyond the Pines, a lengthy three-act effort that examines the effects of a parental tragedy on their children many years later. The arduous attempt failed to resonate with Academy voters, but was still well received by critics and viewers alike. And, unfortunately, Cianfrance's new bold effort, The Light Between Oceans, once again represents a challenging tale that should fall shy of Oscar contention.

Adapted from M.L. Stedman's novel of the same name, Michael Fassbander stars as Tom Sherbourne, a war veteran who returns and finds work as a lighthouse keeper on a secluded island off the coast of Australia. After falling in love with Isabel (Alicia Vikander), the couple try desperately to have a baby but Isabel's body won't comply. Therefore, they end up living a lie once they decide to raise an infant rescued from a small boat floating adrift in the ocean.

The Light Between Oceans is a heavy-themed drama that tells a massive story. Derek Cianfrance's unsurprisingly ambitious effort offers picturesque cinematography and a gripping plot that's constantly evolving. Yet, the enormity of the story proves to be better suited for a novel as the film's third act is terribly rushed. Cianfrance uses the majority of the film to build his characters and develop their relationship. Leading stars Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander give wonderful performances that stand out, but not quite at an Academy Awards type of level. Then, suddenly, this slow building and character-driven tale races off course by speeding through its finale. While pacing certainly would have been a larger issue, especially by adding another half hour or so to the running time, The Light Between Oceans never feels as all-encompassing as it should. Cianfrance's latest work definitely isn't a miss, but over-ambition gets the best of the filmmaker once again.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

After debuting at the Cannes Film Festival in May, early reviews for David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water were strong, but nothing over-the-top. I've been an outspoken fan of the filmmaker for a long time after catching my attention with strong and artistic indie hits such as Perfect Sense and Starred Up. Therefore, I'm confident in declaring Mackenzie's latest modern-day western as one of the year's finest pieces of filmmaking.

Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) are a pair of poor Texan brothers who have taken to robbing a vulnerable bank chain in their home state. And after the nearly-retired sheriff, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), jumps on the case and finds himself right on their heels, these loyal siblings must balance accumulating the funds they need with the likelihood of getting caught by the police.

Fans of the western genre, like myself, are guaranteed to enjoy Mackenzie slow-classic touch. Hell or High Water adequately blends together timely humor, suspenseful action and exceptional characters. A stark contrast exists between these onscreen siblings. Ben Foster is unforgettable as an impulsive and edgier released felon, while Chris Pine shines as a more timid and smarter counterpart. Despite their many differences, connections are easily formed with both characters. Hell or Highwater reveals its intriguing secrets slow enough to let Foster and Pine hook the audience, but quick enough to never keep them waiting. And outside of a minimally prolonged finale, Hell or Highwater flows without a hitch, leaving Mackenzie's film as one of 2016's most impressive offerings.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

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