Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, Caren Pistorius, Anthony Hayes
Run Time: 133 mins
‘The Light Between Oceans’ is an adaptation of the novel of the same film and is the new film by Derek Cianfrance who is most famous for directing Ryan Gosling in ‘Blue Valentine’ and ‘The Place Between The Pines’. It tells the story of Tom Sherbourne, a traumatised and out-of-place World War I hero who decides to become a lighthouse keeper at Janus Rock, an island off the coast of West Australia which has a brooding, separate from civilisation feel to it and as time, he befriends and ultimately marries a local girl, Isabel Graysmark who subsequently moves over to Janus Rock with him. Unfortunately over the course of a few years, she suffers miscarriages and is wracked with guilt and depression but one day, a boat with a deceased man and a baby washes up onto shore and Tom wants to report it but Isabel wants to keep it for them and the rest of the film details the upbringing of this little girl and the consequences this has on the close-knit society.
‘The Light Between Oceans’ is a well-acted, well-intentioned film that is always fairly engaging but the film has a whole host of problems with its irrational characters despite how convincing the performances are. I’m not going to spoil the film at all but you will hopefully understand if you watch it then read this review – surely this would never happen in reality or if it did, it wouldn’t be dealt with in the same way. Despite an extremely problematic narrative, the crew are generally fairly impressive here and the film is beautifully shot by rising talent Adam Arkapaw and has a competent score by the always reliable Alexandre Desplat.
Cianfrance has to thank the film’s impressive cast otherwise this film would potentially have been very, very bad. Michael Fassbender has slowly been crafting a very impressive resume of performances over the years and peaked with the trio of ‘Slow West’, ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Steve Jobs’ last year. This year, he already hit a bump with ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ and whilst this film is by no means bad, this is just standard fare for him. His performance is fairly nuanced and we do feel empathy for him with the events that happen in the film and the film is very lucky to have him because with a lesser actor in the film’s final act, the film could have been laughably bad. The two other standouts here are Jack Thompson and Caren Pistorius, Thompson at times managing to emotionally connect with the audience and although Pistorius only shows up in one scene, she manages to blend subtlety and emotion and I hope she manages to find a big break soon as the roles she chooses are very promising so far. Both Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz are good here too and their performance just about manages to mask some of her characters incredibly irrational decisions, particularly Weisz.
The story is the biggest problem and it is only on the strength of the talent involved here that just about manage to carry this film over into the ‘Good’ category. As mentioned, the film is an adaptation of a novel penned by M. L. Stedman and whilst I have not read it, I’m surprised it has been adapted for a film if this adaptation is faithful to the novel. There are multiple instances in this film where you question characters decisions and apparent personality that it really, really threw me out of the film and got me quite annoyed. However when this isn’t the case, the film manages to plod along through its lengthy 133 minute run time just about fine, never particularly impressing in its story but being competent enough. Luckily, the film’s closing scene manages to save the film as it is subtle and nuanced and offers good closure to the audience. If the film ended a scene prior, it would have left a very sour taste and got me out of the cinema feeling very annoyed.
Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography is absolutely stunning and the film looks incredible. He has proven himself already with his work on ‘Macbeth’ last year and this further cements his talent and I hope he does a good job on the upcoming ‘Assassin’s Creed’ too but judging from the trailers, it would seem he has. Arkapaw’s cinematography does a terrific job of demonstrating the scope of the ocean that is surrounding Janus Rock and the balance of the whites and blues that he shows us give this film a really clean look, it’s just a shame that inside this wonderful world that is crafted a middling film exists in it. The always reliable Alexandre Desplat’s score supplements the film very well and gives the audience many opportunities to emotionally connect with the events being portrayed on-screen.
Overall, ‘The Light Between Oceans’ is a frustratingly middling adaptation – by no means a bad film but not a terribly good one either. It just about crosses the boundary for a ‘Good’ rating due to the strengths of the performances in the film and the assured direction by Derek Cianfrance and Adam Arkapaw’s stunning cinematography. If the book is the same as the film, I don’t know why this was picked to be adapted as let’s face it, the frankly stupid characters in this film really challenge the intelligence of the viewer. It’s an oddly old-fashioned drama which really isn’t in line with Cianfrance’s more gritty, real previous efforts but this does demonstrate that Cianfrance can handle this type of material but unfortunately, the characters are just too irrational to care for and spend 133 minutes with.