By Jack Dignan
Derek Cianfrance, the man behind The Place Beyond The Pines and Blue Valentine, directs Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander in this drama of love, loss and family, based on the bestselling book by M.L. Stedman. That sentence right there should mean great things. It should be the description of a movie that will go on to win Oscar upon Oscar upon Oscar, resulting in what should be one of the best films of the year. It's got both a brilliant cast and director, building the grounds of what should be something utterly phenomenal, but is instead simply fine. It's not bad, but it's definitely not great, and at times it does feel like wasted potential.
The Light Between Oceans follows the story of Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a solider who settles down as a lighthouse keeper after returning home from war, wanting peace and quiet after may years of fighting. He meets a young woman named Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), and after literally one date, the two fall in love with each other, getting married and moving in together on the lighthouse, away from the worries and woes of the rest of the world. After a series of miscarriages, things aren't looking hopeful for Tom and Isabel, but a small boat arrives at their lighthouse, carrying with it a dead body and a crying baby. The two lovers adopt the child as their own, but years later, things become difficult when they run into the child's mother, Hannah (Rachel Weisz), who still believes her baby to be dead.
Real life couple Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander star as lovers in this overly dramatic, but kind of entertaining love story of parenthood, and if there's one thing that's most apparent in this movie it's that these two sure can act. Fassbender is still going hard at trying to get that Oscar, and while it's long overdue, this doesn't feel like the film he should get it for. He's great, there's no doubt about that, but his Oscar is still just out of reach. Vikander, as well, is terrific, even if her character does make some really, really weird decisions throughout, however that didn't take away from the brilliance and emotional centre of her performance.
Australian cinematographer Adam Arkapaw comes to the rescue with his gorgeous camerawork here, crafting a variety of truly beautiful shots, especially his luscious landscape ones, frequently consisting of long pants over water. It really does help when the set design and general location of the film was just candy to my eyes, the island upon which it's set looking welcoming and relaxing, and it allowed for the cinematography to stand out in comparison to most aspects of this movie. Arkapaw is building up quite a résumé, now having worked on such films as Animal Kingdom, Macbeth and the upcoming Assassin's Creed, as well as season 1 of True Detective, which can all agree was the good season.
Before I get into flaws, it must be said that almost every component of the making of this movie is quite stunning, not just the performances and cinematography. Everything from the hair and make-up to the overall set designs to the wonderful, if not slightly familiar score by Alexandre Desplat is an excellent display of how to make a quality movie, however it is preferable if the final product turns out more along the lines of The Place Beyond the Pines than it does The Light Between Oceans, because that has a lot of similar positive aspects, and is a far superior film.
The biggest problem with this movie lies within the script, written by Cianfance himself. The dialogue varies from decent to corny and while the premise is interesting, it's so melodramatic, sappy and frequently stupid, trying to play with several different plot points, but giving all the wrong ones the most screen time. It's a very slow opening, taking its time in setting up these characters, yet when some of the more interesting things are taking place, they're rushed past, the gravity of the situation never felt. There wasn't nearly as much emotional depth as there needed to be, resulting in a story that I didn't feel attached to.
The third act in particular is a bit of a mess, and I did like certain things that they were trying to do, but as a whole it just doesn't flow. It's choppy and under-explained, nearly every character's motive just flipped upside down with no foreshadowing whatsoever. Everything comes out of nowhere, making it neither predictable nor surprising, and on top of that, the film just... wouldn't... end... There's several different endings for the movie, half of which were completely unnecessary, but hey, gotta go for that Oscar-worthy runtime of 2 hours and 13 minutes, y'know.
To sum up, The Light Between Oceans is an overly melodramatic story that ranges from interesting to stupid with no in-between, but every behind the scenes component of it just works, from the score to the cinematography to the directing to the performances, and I ended up enjoying it. Barely.