Windswept coastlines. An isolated lighthouse keeper. A dead man and his baby washed ashore. This is the setting for Derek Cianfrance’s film The Light Between Oceans, an adaptation of M. L. Stedman’s novel of the same name.
A beautifully framed and powerfully acted romantic drama set just after the events of World War I sees Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) land a gig as lighthouse caretaker on desolate Janus Island. Tom's decision to isolate himself in an attempt to forget the countless atrocities he has witnessed during wartime is reflected through his stoicism and forms a foundation for what is to come.
When Tom meets Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander) on furlough, his world is rocked and his craggy demeanour begins to soften. From the moment Vikander’s character graces the screen you know her vitality and youthfulness is going to win over Tom and viewers alike. It’s only after Isabel’s second miscarriage does the film start to deviate from the usual paint by numbers Hollywood melodrama. It's also where everything starts to fall apart.
Cianfrance is known for his visceral storytelling ability (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) so by applying restraint in a genre that’s infamous for serving super-sized portions of emotion, the result is something disconnected and flat. No real sense of a relationship between Tom and Isabel ever develops and is only exacerbated by an odd montage of their blossoming love.
Sadly for the viewer this means an almost apathy towards the couple when they secretly raise the baby they find washed ashore in a lifeboat as their own. You don’t experience their desperation to create a family or their reckoning with this sin they’ve committed. As the story develops and the emotion pulls intensify, instead of becoming invested you become increasingly ambivalent.
Ultimately, it just feels like Cianfrance tries too hard to give this story the indie treatment by throwing together a handful of award wining actors and some stunning visuals. When it comes to cheesy romantic dramas, you know what they say: if it ain't broke don't fix it.
Oh yeah and Rachel Weisz is in it too and she’s fantastic.
The Light Between Oceans is in cinemas nationally from November 3rd.
Header image via DreamWorks