Originally published on Flickering Myth on 14/10/16.
A veteran of festival hits Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance has been an exciting new name for some years now, bubbling just under the surface of real critical acclaim but always delivering seriously exciting projects. Until now, that is. His latest, the studio-backed, Oscar-hungry weepy The Light Between Oceans, not only feels massively out of character for the edgy American, it’s also just painfully boring at almost every turn.
Adapted from M. L. Stedman’s equally ropey novel of the same name, for the first time Cianfrance seems content with delivering something frustratingly pedestrian. Gone are the stunning single takes and sincerely raw breakdowns, replaced with soapy drama played out by possibly the blandest set of characters of the year. It might be going for subtle emotional complexity instead of visual wonder, which is understandable, but the reality of this movie is simply that it is achingly slow.
At nearly two and a half hours long, it’s certainly anything but short, and with the amount of narrative scope all but stretched to breaking point, there’s very little actual content here. Instead Cianfrance pads out the opening act with a pretty dead meet-cute between the two leads, finally delivering the actual plotting over an hour in, which then falls stale in itself incredibly quickly, repeating the same emotional beats over and over again.
To their credit, Fassbender and Vikander (now apparently a couple in real life too) seem to very much be giving it their best shot. Their romance blossoms neatly when it’s allowed to, and there is a genuine spark between the pair, it’s just that far too often their emotional dealings come across as annoyingly muted.
Fassbender’s lighthouse keeper, a man broken by war, is understandably closed off, but this really does him no favours; there’s not quite enough underlying complexity to his time on screen to make for a particularly engaging character. Vikander on the other hand is a delight early on, but loses herself in a mopey second half, dissolving into little more than a puddle of tears. When she does show up, Weisz is an expected treat, but also soon finds herself lost in the same haze as her co-stars.
On a very basic level, The Light Between Oceans is just too rhythmically and emotively dull to ever actually be appealing. It’s clear what Cianfrance is trying to do, and between some pretty photography and the names attached, on paper it should be the show-stopping drama Hollywood paid out for. Instead though, it’s a total wet-blanket of muted character arcs and painful repetitions. Another year at the Oscars for Vikander and co.? Probably not, this one’s a total snoozer.
The Light Between Oceans is out in UK cinemas from 1st November.