Movie review: A-list cast (Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz) gets trapped in a Nicholas Sparks-like film. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
According to the very pretty and very strange movie “The Light Between Oceans,” there are days when the sky turns ink-gray and your heart feels as if it were smashed on the craggy rocks of your lost dreams, and then there are days when exquisite, miraculously-non-sunburned infants turn up in front of your lighthouse in a rowboat, accompanied only by a paternal-looking corpse. Among the many questions this film raises: What would you do, if you were a picturesque young lighthouse-keeping couple in post-WWI Australia, living on a semi-remote island and yearning to have a child? Would you bury the corpse, keep that baby and pretend she’s your own? Or would you reason that a) this lovely infant might have a mother who might want her, and b) it’s not impossible that, in the small coastal town that’s not so terribly far from your island, you might cross paths with said mother?
Movies are not often made about people who only exhibit reasonable behavior (what fun would that be?), so you can probably guess what Tom (Michael Fassbender) and Isabel (Alicia Vikander) do. But while their actions, driven by grief (Isabel has recently had two miscarriages), might have made some sense in M.L. Stedman’s novel, it’s harder to buy it on screen. And director Derek Cianfrance (who made the far more effective love story “Blue Valentine” in 2011) unfortunately stacks the deck: That little girl’s mother, we learn mid-movie, is played by Rachel Weisz, a splendid actress who can out-grief pretty much anyone. Soon “The Light Between Oceans” drowns in tears, crashing waves, wrenching sadness and bad decisions by pretty much every character, except perhaps the baby.
Visually, “The Light Between Oceans” looks perfect in every frame (despite Cianfrance’s fondness for the runny-nosed, weepy extreme close up): blooming sunsets, lovely period costumes, breathtaking greeting-card views from the lighthouse. The first-rate cast — right down to that infant, who displays Streep-like instincts for the camera — toils mightily. But sadly, they’re trapped in what becomes a sort of A-list Nicholas Sparks melodrama Down Under. When I found myself rooting for the reappearance of a particular coat (on Isabel; fitted, peplum’d, quite smart), rather than the characters, I knew the movie was lost at sea.
Movie Review ★★
‘The Light Between Oceans,’ with Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson. Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, based on the novel by M.L. Stedman. 133 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sexual content. Several theaters.