By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
When you see a poster like this, you think you know exactly what you’re getting.
Obviously, this is a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Something weepy is going to happen, and the woman’s probably going to exacerbate the pain of parting by complete refusing to listen to her partner’s explanation of something that should probably be cleared up in one conversation. Then cancer or hurricane or murder sentences put the melo icing on the dramatic cake.
But, you say, its Michael Fassbender playing the war hero lighthouse keeper and Alicia Vikander his lover and wife. And it’s Derek Cianfrance directing this part romance, part drama about the childless couple adopting a baby they find in a rowboat with the corpse of her father. And Rachel Weisz playing the real mother, so you know there’ll be Oscar caliber fireworks and knotty moral quandaries to intelligently debate, right? Right?
There’s definitely nothing wrong with the production values- especially meteorically rising DP Adam Arkapaw’s gorgeous shot Western Australian coastline, sea, and postcard-perfect sunsets, all the more impresisve when paired with Cianfrance’s talent for the off-kilter framing of faces in a way that seems to heighten the emotions playing across them. I also have to applaud the immersive sound design with the waves pounding so incessantly you almost cease to notice how they’re wearing you down, like it must be for those lighthouse keepers
Fassbender, Vikander, and Weisz are exactly as good as you’d expect, with Fassbender slowly but rawly exposing a man who thinks he’s done so much evil during his time as a war hero in WWI that he deserves any fate. Vikander makes a vastly underwritten character much more complex than she maybe should be, and has firecracker chemistry with real life beau Fassbender.
Makes too much sense, doesn’t it?
After some initial struggles finding its voice (and it’s plot), The Light Between Oceans does pull itself together rather nicely in the final act, as all of the bad decisions come home to roost and these folks’ real characters emerge and become something human instead of mannered and actorly. The ending in particular sticks with you much more than you’d expect, as themes of forgiveness and letting go of the past surprisingly come to the fore. You can see why the novel was ultimately as successful as it was- just stick it out and enjoy the pretty pictures until it happens.
The script has a very rough beginning, full of florid overblown dialogue that even this caliber of actor has trouble delivering convincingly, and bowing to the too easy cliches once too many. Then it just settles in for a long, frankly boring sub-Malickian slice of life period before finally coming to life when the interpersonal drama promised by the plot starts to crackle. It’s as if Cianfrance wanted to smash together Masterpiece Theater, The Tree of Life, and his own Blue Valentine… it just doesn’t work as a whole.
Cianfrance and Vikander never can crack her character’s motivations as hard as they try. She appears to basically decide Fassbender will be her husband, and then latter tosses him off completely for making the decision they all knew was necessary. Likewise, how they thought a baby in a rowboat was a no strings attached situation at all is never really explained, which you start to suspect is no more than a Sparks move when people start tossing letters in drawers and making mad dashes across town after their departing lover. This bad scripting even seems to rub off on some creative decisions of Cianfrance’s. The shaky handheld as they run to the boat to discover what we all know is there is just this side of hackwork. However, the script is very much the Achilles heel here.
Give it another dip, dammit.
The Light Between Oceans is this is highbrow Nicholas Sparks for absolutely certain, but admit it- you have a soft spot for The Notebook… watch with this in mind and you’ll find plenty worthy of note.
The Light Between Oceans (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for shots of a single boat in the ocean
Take a Drink: for trips to town
Take a Drink: for pianos
Take a Drink: for sunsets
Do a Shot: for Greek symbolism