It has an A-list cast of hot actors, an Oscar winner and a couple of Aussie acting icons.
It’s an evocative period piece based on a best-selling novel, an era and an exotic setting beautifully captured and lavishly photographed.
But change the locale from remote, coastal Australia to the beaches of Carolina, and all “The Light Between Oceans” adds up to is a Nicolas Sparks novel with more poetic writing.
It’s a romance novel, a romantic fable, brought to life by a pretty good cast that cannot make it more than is, that cannot give it more meaning and make it less frustrating than novelist M.L. Stedman intended.
Michael Fassbender is Thomas Sherbourne, a veteran of The Great War, home and in search of work that offers solitude, peace and purpose. He’s spent four years in the trenches of France. Maybe now he’d like to save lives for a change.
He’s to be the temporary new keeper of the light at Janus Island, a hundred miles from anywhere, keeping the light burning and the ships off the shoals around this island home.
A sensitive man of faith and a philosophical bent, he isn’t looking for companionship. But when the job turns permanent, he is drawn back to the bold, flirtatious free spirit he met at the nearest coastal town. Isabel (Alicia Vikander) has that effect on him. She, in essence, proposes to him on their second meeting. That unsettles Tom.
“I couldn’t stop seeing my life with you.”
What he couldn’t see, beyond the romantic idyll of two lovers on a windswept limestone rock, would be the miscarriages and how those would hit Isabel. The lonely place, the heartbreak, it could do her in. It broke the spirit of the previous lighthouse keeper.
So when a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a baby, she sees her lifeline. And Tom, slavishly devoted to duty and doing the right thing, relents. They raise the little girl as their own, covering up how they got her from everyone.
But the little girl has a mother (Rachel Weisz) who mourns for her and clings to the hope that she still lives.
In adapting the book, Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”) spares us no images of the sea or the surf. The wind blows Vikander and Fassbender’s hair, romantically as the fateful couple face their fate, then choose to let fate change that fate.
Vikander seems too young to be cast opposite Fassbender, even if we take into account the differing times and notion that the war has aged Tom beyond his years. But there’s chemistry there, just not enough to make anybody swoon.
The adorable workboat piloted by Captain Ralph, played by the great Australian character actor Jack Thompson, has many, many scenes of coming and going. Weisz suffers, nobly, and another Aussie character player, Bryan Brown, gives flint to the role of her rich father.
A couple of absurdly photogenic and adorable children (Florence Clery plays the little girl, Lucy, once she’s talking) animate the role of a child worth fighting for.
But the lighthouse love story never adds up to much more than images or feelings, and the story wallows in melodrama as we see guilt weigh on Tom, and his dilemma. Two broken women — which one can he “save”? Either solution threatens to doom the other.
Nothing happy can come from this, and no epilogue can mend the frustrating, heartbreaking choices that come from the knowledge that Tom, and we, cannot save everyone.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for thematic material and some sexual content
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown
Credits: Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, based on the M.L. Stedman novel . A Touchstone/Dreamworks release.
Running time: 2:12