The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans, Derek Cianfrance’s latest depressathon, is every bit as well-acted, visually sumptuous, and narratively ambitious as his last two works. But every flaw present in his breakthrough, Blue Valentine – namely a heavy-handed approach to story that threatens to overwhelm the characters – has been magnified tenfold, with all that film’s raw edges sanded down to appeal to the weepie crowd. The result is something with the look and feel of a potent Oscar contender, but with a curious deficiency of emotional affect – perhaps because it is so inefficiently direct in trying to prompt a landslide of snot and tears.
Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a haunted veteran of World War I. He takes a post as a lighthouse keeper at Janus Rock, a remote island off the coast of Australia; after living through so much noise, he’s eager to find some peace and quiet. That doesn’t stop him from falling in love with local girl Isabel (Alicia Vikander), whom he marries and brings to his island. All is well until they try to start a family, when it becomes clear that Isabel is prone to miscarriage. The couple are distraught. Yet their prayers to a distant God are answered when a baby in a lifeboat washes up on the shore. The father is dead, and the mother is nowhere to be seen: Isabel convinces Tom to take the child as their own. Inevitably, their decision has tragic consequences.
Fassbender is very good at portraying that old-fashioned, brooding sense of masculine shame; Vikander is good, too, though once again her unique quality as an actress – a glacial, beautiful façade with interesting cracks – are overlooked. Rachel Weisz shows up later on, but she’s given a one-note role that mostly involves a lot of crying.
Though again, the actors aren’t really at fault here. The film is adapted from a 2012 novel by ML Stedman, and it certainly shows. There’s a sweeping, epic tone to the production, as the narrative swirls through the years; it’s similar, in this sense, to The Place Beyond the Pines, Cianfrance’s broken-backed epic of a decaying America. Yet that film managed to disguise its own pretentious, posturing qualities with some terrific action sequences. The Light Between Oceans falters because it has no stand-out moments. It’s a self-serious take on Raising Arizona, that skips by like a montage – gorgeous to look at, but completely forgettable.
The Light Between Oceans is released nationwide on 1st November 2016.
Watch the trailer for The Light Between Oceans here: