THERE’S nothing like the cathartic power of a good weepy. Think Beaches, Legends of the Fall or Life is Beautiful.
The Light Between the Oceans, based on a best-selling book by London-based Australian author M.L. Stedman, had all the right ingredients to join those ranks but doesn’t quite get there.
Returning from the noise and mayhem of the Western Front, WWI veteran Tom (Michael Fassbender) is looking forward to the quiet and solitude of Janus Rock, an isolated island off the coast of Western Australia. He’s hired as the lighthouse keeper and is the only soul for at least 100 miles.
He falls in love with and marries Isabel (Alicia Vikander), a local girl in the nearest town and she joins him on Janus. But the happy couple are struck by tragedies as they suffer through wretched miscarriages.
Then, two days after she loses another baby, Tom hears a distant cry. A dinghy washes ashore carrying a dead man and a baby girl. Consumed with her own loss but driven by the hope represented in that little girl, Isabel convinces Tom to keep the baby, passing her off as their own.
A few years later, while in town, Tom realises the child belongs to a woman named Hannah (Rachel Weisz), whose sad tale of a husband and child lost at sea hangs around her like a black cloak of grief. Tom’s decision is an impossible one.
Billed as co-production between the US, the UK and New Zealand, Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) filmed The Light Between The Oceans in NZ because of its sweeping landscapes and stormy outlook. It’s beautifully shot with Cianfrance capturing the vast remoteness of the island in gorgeous wide shots while still managing to retain an intimacy.
Alexandre Desplat’s tender score moves in tune with everything on the screen without overtaking it — he continues to prove he’s one of the industry’s most in-demand composers.
But it’s the actors that lift The Light Between the Oceans.
One of his generation’s finest with a range that stretches to every genre except maybe comedy, Fassbender’s performance is a masterstroke in subtlety and interiority. Tom is a taciturn man that has chosen to hide himself at the ends of the earth, but is still driven by love and duty. His on-screen chemistry with Vikander is so palpable that the pair’s relationship evolved to an off-screen romance.
Vikander’s Isabel is a powerful balancing act of strength and sorrow while the ever-candescent Weisz’s commanding presence would have you weeping if the material was stronger.
Despite the faultless performances — which also include supporting roles by Australian luminaries such as Bryan Brown, Garry MacDonald and Jack Thompson — there’s something missing from the overall effect.
A hollowness or incompleteness pervades The Light Between the Ocean and prevents you from entirely investing in it. By the end, you may be surprised at yourself shedding a tear or two but it won’t inspire the kind of all-encompassing emotional heaving the best weepies induce.
The Light Between the Oceans is out in cinemas now.