The big hitters on day one of Venezia73 keep coming with Derek Cianfrance’s powerful drama The Light Between Oceans, based on M.L. Stedman’s heartrending novel. It would seem the 73rd Venice Film Festival is getting the Oscar contenders out early…
The Light Between Oceans stars real-life couple Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander as on-screen husband and wife. The story focuses on lighthouse keeper Tom (Fassbender) and his wife Isabel (Vikander), living off the coast of Western Australia.
An Australian war veteran of WW1, Tom is something of a hero. When a lighthouse keeper’s post comes up, he jumps at the chance to get away from civilisation for a while. Once on the island he meets Isabel, and the pair marry.
One day, a boat washes up on the shore, with a baby girl and a dead body on-board. Unable to have children of their own – and with much deliberation on Tom’s part – they decide to raise the rescued baby (who they name Lucy) as their own. But as times goes on, the guilt begins to eat away at Tom and he starts to leave clues to the real mother. When I asked Alicia about motherhood and what was it like playing a mother for the first time, she responded:
“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. 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. The 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 Vikander’s character ripped apart by the agonising emotional trauma of two miscarriages, and Fassbender’s Tom dealing with his military past and his deceit over the baby. Both have put in award-worthy performances but it’s a shame that the film as a whole doesn’t quite match up to them. I asked Michael what was it like working with Alicia for the first time:
“Working with Alicia was a joy, especially for the intense scenes because we are of course comfortable with each other.”
Alicia echoed this, “When I knew Michael was on-board, I had to do this movie. I really wanted to work with talented people like Derek (the 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. Cianfrance could have intended this to create 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, but it still feels slightly lacklustre.
There is of course an intriguing plot here, but the way it plays out slowly over two hours makes the climax a little less interesting. The finale is certainly touching but I feel if more time had been invested in the relationship between Tom and Isabel, we could have related better. We see a lot of each characters’ motives, emotions and torment – but only independently, never as a couple.
Having said that, it is a worthy watch, but just bear in mind the distance between the audience and the characters. I cannot fault Fassbender and Vikander – they are both tremendous. If the Oscars are 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 is released in the UK on 4 Nov (cert 12A), and screens at Phoenix from Fri 18 Nov – Thu 1 Dec.
Watch the official trailer
Read more of Adam Ray Palmer’s reviews at Cineroom.co.uk