Derek Cianfrance has made two stunning films earlier – Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines. Watching both these films can be a stressful jaunt because of the sheer emotional punch they pack with often disturbingly real and relatable characters.
So it comes as a bitter disappointment that his latest film, The Light Between Oceans, despite having two of the best current working actors Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, is nothing more than an illogical snooze.
Based on ML Stedman’s 2012 novel of the same name, The Light between Oceans introduces us to Tom (Fassbender) who after serving in World War 1 gets a job as a lighthouse keeper in a remote seaside location.
Isabel (Vikander), who has also seen some strife during the war is drawn to him for, well, looking like Fassbender.
Their marriage, which would seem to be the stuff of dreams turns into a gloomy nightmare after Isabel undergoes a series of miscarriages. Their luck changes when a boat drifts ashore carrying a dead man and a tiny infant.
The couple adopts the baby and raises it as their own child. Everything is hunky dory, until a few years later a woman named Hannah (Rachel Weisz) turns up with a story of having lost her husband and baby at sea.
The problem with The Light Between Oceans is on the very basic level it feels like a Nicholas Sparks novel turned into a movie.
The story contrivances, the plot conveniences, the way every sentimental moment is executed in over the top manner, the 80’s Doordarshan style of acting and the swelling music to not only tug at your heartstrings but to grab and shake them violently just to get an emotional reaction from you is all very distracting and unwarranted from a filmmaker who has earlier succeeded in making us cry without all these machinations.
It feels like Cianfrance suddenly sold out and decided to go all out commercial in a story that doesn’t need this kind of manipulative filmmaking.
It doesn’t help that not much happens in the story once Weisz’s character arrives. The plot shift comes too early in the film and you’re made to wait for some sort of payoff for all the emotional manipulation. But nothing interesting happens in the third act and you’re left frustrated.
And unlike Cianfrance’s previous work the characters in the third act become irritatingly stupid, hurling random accusations at each other rather than trying to solve the conflict at hand. The love between the couple, and their estrangement and the dynamics with the third person feels manufactured rather than real. The problems are hollow and their resolution is tedious.
As clichéd as it is to say about a movie, The Light Between Oceans really is all style over substance.
As Cianfrance catches endless shots of the sunset and the beautiful nature surrounding the lighthouse area, he doesn’t pay attention to telling a compelling story. Beautiful people in a beautiful location isn’t enough reason to warrant a watch in the theater, and it’s too depressing to even qualify as a date movie.