The Light Between Oceans is a painfully slow melodrama. English period costume drama isn't everyone's cup of tea, but this one is a head scratcher. All of the pieces for a good film were seemingly there, a talented cast, acclaimed director, well regarded source novel. But instead of award worthy recognition we get tedium and pretentiousness. This is a great example of how having great ingredients doesn't guarantee a decent product.
Based on the novel by M.L. Stedman, The Light Between Oceans takes place on the Australian coast directly after World War One. Michael Fassbender stars as Tom Sherbourne, a veteran haunted by his time in the war. He takes a job in isolation as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island. His employer's daughter, Isabel (Alicia Vikander), takes a fancy to him and they begin corresponding. After a whirlwind romance leads to marriage, Isabel joins Tom on his island for an idyllic life. Paradise darkens as Isabel continually miscarriages. Their dreams are answered when an infant washes up in a dingy. The Sherbourne's raise the baby as their own, but guilt and doubt grows in Tom as he fears the child's mother is still alive.
I felt every single second of The Light Between Oceans' two hour and twelve minute runtime. The film just never captivates. Characters spend a lot of time crying between pompous shots of the ocean and coastline. Coupled with Alexandre Desplat's maudlin piano score, it's a recipe for boredom. It's disappointing because the story elements are intriguing. I'd bet the book is probably very good. The issue is that the film just doesn't execute the plot successfully.
The Light Between Oceans is directed and written for the screen by Derek Cianfrance. He badly misses with this effort. That's surprising. Cianfrance's previous films, Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines, were exceptional. This type of story is tailor made for his talent, but it just doesn't work. I think he labored to much trying to juxtapose the characters grief against panoramic vistas. In theory that approach could be poetic, but the line is so far crossed. It's as distant as his ocean horizon. The film comes off as obvious and dreary.
Arriving from DreamWorks and Touchstone Pictures, The Light Between Oceans is a big letdown. There was meat on the bone for a riveting drama, but those heights are not remotely reached. The film falls flat on all counts. It's a bit disheartening to see so many great artists make a bad movie. It makes you appreciate just how difficult it is to successfully adapt good literature.