[Screen It]


(2016) (Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander) (PG-13)

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Drama: A post-WWI lighthouse keeper and his wife, who've just suffered through their second miscarriage, rescue a baby from the sea and raise it as their own, all while the girl's mother grieves over her lost child and husband.
It's 1918 and after serving four years in WWI, Tom Sherbourne (MICHAEL FASSBENDER) would like a little peace and solitude. Accordingly, he takes a temporary job as the lighthouse keeper at Janus Rock, a remote island off the coast of Australia that's so removed from civilization that the last keeper went crazy. Before heading off for his solitary job, he's treated to dinner by some locals on the mainland and that's where he meets Isabel Graysmark (ALICIA VIKANDER). She's a young woman who's instantly smitten with him, and the two become steady pen pals. That eventually leads to romance, marriage, and her moving to the island with him.

But two miscarriages later, she's so distraught that when a rowboat drifts by with a dead man and crying baby inside, she pleads for Tom to allow them to keep the child and raise it as their own. Being a rule follower and moral man, he's reluctant, but seeing the joy the child brings to his wife, he eventually gives in and agrees.

Things become more complicated when the family returns to the mainland to visit Isabel's family. It's then that Tom spots Hannah Roennfeldt (RACHEL WEISZ) crying near a grave, and after she leaves he views the headstone, only to realize she's the child's mother. He eventually learns that she was disinherited from the estate of her wealthy father, Septimus Potts (BRYAN BROWN), for marrying a German man, Frank (LEON FORD) who -- fearful for his life and that of their child at the hands of anti-German locals -- fled into the sea never to be seen again.

From that point on, Tom finds himself torn about what to do regarding his young daughter, Lucy (FLORENCE CLERY), and whether he and Isabel should come clean about what's transpired.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
I want to marry a lighthouse keeper
And keep him company
I want to marry a lighthouse keeper
And live by the side of the sea
I'll polish his lamps by the light of day
So the ships at night can find their way
I want to marry a lighthouse keeper
Won't that be okay?

Erika Eigen "I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper"

While that song is probably best known for being the odd man out ditty heard in Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," it sums up the old romantic notion of living by and operating some old lighthouse on most any coast in the world. Of course, nowadays such towering beacons are pretty much automated and ships use more modern means of avoiding the nastiness of running aground in the dark or bad weather.

With such advances decades away, young Isabel Sherbourne is so instantly smitten with Tom Sherbourne upon first meeting him and inviting him out for a picnic that she offers to marry the war veteran so that she can see the lighthouse where he's taken a temporary job following a four-year tour in WWI France.

Those are the two main characters and that's the kicking off point for "The Light Between Oceans," writer/director Derek Cianfrance's adaptation of the 2012 novel of the same name by M. L. Stedman. After a brief stint of being pen pals (what with her back on the mainland of Australia while he's off on a remote and desolate island), the two (played by Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander) marry and get busy trying to have kids.

That results in two pregnancies, but both end up as miscarriages, devastating the young woman. As luck or fate would have it, it's not long after the second that a rowboat drifts nearby carrying a dead father and that's man young and still alive infant. Isabel pleads for Tom to let them keep and pass off the child as their own and after much thought and fretting, he reluctantly agrees.

But during a return trip to the mainland, he happens across a young woman (Rachel Weisz) in the local cemetery. When she departs, he reads the headstone and sees that her husband and young infant were lost at sea, right around the time when young Lucy arrived. Being a rule follower and moral man, this eats away at him, meaning he could very well likely do something his wife isn't going to like.

And with that the stage is set for a film that could be viewed as Oscar bait, what with the terrific cast, gorgeous visuals and production design, and Cianfrance's critically lauded track record of previously helming "The Place Beyond the Pines" and "Blue Valentine." Then again, it might come off as a melodramatic tearjerker designed to get the waterworks flowing in many a woman (and some more sensitive guys), or just a gussied-up TV movie of the week with maudlin tendencies.

While it thankfully avoids most of the latter qualities, it isn't as good as I was hoping for or expecting. Not being familiar with the book or actual plot, I didn't have any preconceived notions going in before our screening beyond wondering how the chemistry would play out between the leads up on the screen, what with their on-again, off-again and reportedly on-again off-screen romance.

That turns out to be fine (and the real life situation certainly makes their characters' romantic and strained moments feel real). Yet, while viewer opinion might differ, I came out with not much more than a "meh" response to everything the film has to offer as something just feels off.

The performances are solid across the board (and I view Fassbender and Vikander as two of the best performers working in film today) and there's obviously potential in the thematic exploration of loss, guilt, and moral dilemmas.

Unfortunately, all involved run aground and somewhat come apart on the cinematic shoals. It certainly doesn't help that the entire thing veers into the artistic darkness of something too akin to Nicholas Sparks territory, what with the coastal setting, storyline, and all-too-obvious approaching heartbreak and melodrama.

While I clearly wasn't expecting the lightheartedness of Eigen's catchy marry a lighthouse keeper tune, I was hoping for an Oscar caliber film worthy of the talent involved. Unfortunately, I have to perform my duty and act like a lighthouse to warn you of the trouble that lies ahead should you proceed toward watching this film. "The Light Between Oceans" isn't awful by any means, but it's so mediocre and eventually (and surprisingly) dramatically inert that it rates no better than a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 29, 2016 / Posted September 2, 2016

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