By Adam Ray Palmer
The big hitters of Venezia73 keep coming with Derek Cianfrance’s powerful drama The Light Between Oceans based on the novel by the same name.
Real-life couple Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander star as the on screen man and wife who take up residency on an island with a lighthouse.
It would seem the 73rd Venice Film Festival is getting the Oscar contenders out early…
The Light Between Oceans focuses on a lighthouse keeper (Fassbender) and his wife (Vikander) living off the coast of Western Australia. One day, a boat rocks up on the shore with a young child and a dead body. They decide to raise the baby they rescued as their own.
Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) is an Australian war veteran of WW1 and is somewhat of a hero. When an ideal post comes up to look after a lighthouse for a few months, he jumps at the chance to get away from civilisation for a while. Once he signs on the dotted line, he is taken to a family where they teach him the ways of the island – this is where he meets Isabel (Vikander).
Isabel and Tom have a ‘love at first sight’ moment but it only materialises three months later when Tom decides to extend his stay for three more years. Once the formal bit is out the way, Tom and Isabel begin to date and finally decide to marry. This leads the pair to live together on Janus Island.
Once married life begins and after a few horrific heartaches take place, a washed up boat gives them what Isabel believes is a gift. With much deliberation on Tom’s part, they decide to start a family with their new found daughter named Lucy. As times goes on, the truth begins to eat Tom up and he begins to leave clues to the real mother (Rachel Weisz) as she mourns for her dead, yet not really dead, daughter Grace. When asked about motherhood and what was it like playing a mother for the first time, Alicia said to me:
“Motherhood was the biggest challenge for me in this film. My job is to step into characters but I haven’t had a child yet… but Isabel’s maternal instinct is rife and the trauma caused to her was also very difficult to portray. I felt pressured to get it right but I researched real women’s experiences and hopefully I delivered a role with sensitivity.”
Without going into too much spoiler territory, the film follows a path that is predictable yet still touching but only due to the central protagonists. I must say, this film will certainly be a contender for award season but I think it’s definite Oscar-bait. The way it has been produced screams out that it expects recognition and maybe it should, but only for Fassbender and Vikander.
The starring couple put on an acting masterclass in their respective roles. Both characters are extremely layered with Alicia’s character being ripped apart with agonisingly, emotional trauma because of two miscarriages as she’s desperate to be a doting mother, and Fassbender’s Tom dealing with his military past and his deceit to Hannah (Weisz). Both have put in award-worthy performances but it’s just a shame that the film doesn’t quite match them. I asked Michael what was it like working with Alicia for the first time:
“Working with Alicia was a joy, especially the ore intense scenes because we are of course comfortable with each other”. Alicia echoed this by commenting “when I knew Michael was onboard, I had to do this movie. I really wanted to work with talented people like Derek (director) and also with Michael who is in my opinion, one of the best actors working today”.
The distance between the camera and the protagonists is too great and we therefore feel outsiders looking in. Derek could have intended this to get the feel of the pair being marooned on an island but instead we can’t connect fully with them. The visuals of the picturesque island are stunning and vivid with incredible establishing shots. The DoP, Adam Arkapaw, delivers here but the direction feels slightly lacklustre.
There is of course an intriguing plot here, but the way it slowly plays out over two hours makes the climax a little less interesting. The finale is certainly touching but I feel if Cianfrance invested more time in the relationship between Tom and Isobel, we could have related better. We see a lot of each characters’ motives, emotions and torment – but never as a couple; just independently.
All said and done, it is a worthy watch, but just bear in mind the distance between the audience and the characters. I cannot fault Michael and Alicia as they are both tremendous. If Oscars were looking to reward incredibly hard-working and believable acting, then I have found the winners already.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3.5 Stars
The Light Between Oceans will be released 4th November 2016 – certificate TBC