The Light Between Oceans (2016)
dir. Derek Cianfrance
written by: Derek Cianfrance
starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
2.25 out of 4 stars
Why is it that I do these things to myself? I had no interest in reading The Light Between Oceans, but Derek Cianfrance was adapting it, so what could go wrong? Struggling to stay interested in a semi-romance surrounding the parental rights of a child was the result. The saving grace of the book, the ethical and legal standpoint of well-minding people balancing their desire to care for a lost child but maintaining their innocence when that unintentional kidnapping is revealed added some weight to the otherwise unintriguing beach-read material. With Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, my hope for Cianfrance to delve into the moral repercussions of the couple’s decisions and the birth mother’s struggle to reconnect with her long lost daughter would create a heart-wrenching examination of displaced families. He foolishly took the light material and abandoned the darkness.
In The Light Between Oceans, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) marries young Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander) to join him on Janus, a remote island at the convergence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans where he is the lighthouse keeper. Following multiple miscarriages, the couple finds a baby, along with her father’s corpse, washed onto their remote island. Afraid the baby will get lost in foster care if she is reported, the couple decide to pass the baby off as their own. When returning to land for the first time in years, they come to find out the baby’s mother is Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), who is in constant grief over the loss of her family. Guilt ridden, Tom exposes their indiscretion.
Cianfrance took the safe direction in his adaptation. He delivered an overlong introduction to the couple’s romance, introduced Rachel Weisz far too long into the story, and glossed over the bitter contention between the two families. Michael Fassbender exceeds in the role, having the largest portion of the focus directed toward him. Tom was the narrator in the book, so he is given the brooding and consternation as the devoted husband both betraying and saving his beloved. He allows the joy in fatherhood and husbandry to shine, but the more bleak moral decisions save the otherwise dull pictures. Most unfortunate piece of the movie are the wastes of Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz. Vikander is handed a baby crazy set of hysterical reactions, overacting far more than her previous year of excellence would have previewed. Weisz however is wasted in a much more drastic manner. Where Isabel came off as somewhat despicable and selfish in the novel, Hannah was provided juicy, introspective material that could have been a movie all its own. The novel provided each of her scenes rapt with others attempting to manipulate her life. Weisz handles her unnecessarily small role with grace and makes Hannah very likable and pitiable, but the greatest portions were taken from her.
Besides the gorgeous cinematography from Adam Arkapaw (MacBeth, True Detective) and the cozy knitwork from costume designer Erin Benach (Drive, The Neon Demon), the film lacked any power behind its story. The romance was not felt, the moral turpitude diminished to an afterthought, and the juiciest interactions were replaced with needless scenes from the dregs of M.L. Steadman’s book. Cianfrance has delivered exceptional stories in the past, but it appears he may want to stick to his own stories; or he should at least avoid the bestsellers list.