Derek Cianfrance returns after four years with the period drama The Light Between Oceans, adapted from the novel by M. L. Steadman.
Traumatised World War One soldier Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) takes a job as the keeper of a lighthouse on an isolated island. He falls in love with and marries Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander) and they both move to live on the island permanently. They attempt to start a family but Isabel tragically suffers two miscarriages. Shortly after the second, a boat washes up on the shore containing a dead man and a crying baby. They decide to keep the baby and raise her as their own. However, a few years later they find that there is a mother whose husband and baby were lost at sea and who still grieves for them.
This is the moral crux of the film and what most of the drama is built upon. Do Tom and Isabel keep the child who they have been the parents to for several years and who believes they are her real parents or do they give her back to her true mother? It’s a tricky situation and the film never quite gets to grips with it. The choice of the decision is difficult to come to terms with especially as we grow to have a fondness to Tom and Isabel. As the story goes on their decisions become a little harder to buy and a final clue as to the baby’s true fate feels too self-destructive.
The film works fine for its first two thirds but it slows down and gently unravels during the third. The relationship between Tom and Isabel is nicely played and there is chemistry between Fassbender and Vikander, both actors are, as always, eminently watchable. You feel warmth for them and their struggle for parenthood is keenly felt. However, the final third isn’t as interesting and the film starts to outstay its welcome after the hour and forty minute mark.
The Light Between Oceans seems like a strange project for Cianfrance to have undertaken. After the realistic and unromanticised relationship drama of Blue Valentine and the ambitious and sprawling family consequence drama of The Place Beyond the Pines, The Light Between Oceans seems too formulaic, too buttoned down and more restrained than his previous films. It’s got a Sunday evening forgettable feel to it; the sort of film your parents would watch with a bottle of wine and like but then forget about. It definitely feels like it had the promise of Oscar contention behind it when it was being made but just never achieved it. Its heavyweight cast do fine work but there is a lot of standing on hills looking aggrieved with a lovely landscape behind them.
The Light Between Oceans is a fine looking and well-acted film but its lengthy running time and tricky plot device dull any affecting drama and leave it slipping quickly from the memory.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: DEREK CIANFRANCE / STARRING: ALICIA VIKANDER, MICHAEL FASSBENDER, RACHEL WEISZ / RELEASE DATE: 13TH MARCH