Ever since his debut, Blue Valentine, it seems as if I’m only finding Derek Cianfrance to be all the more difficult to go along with because it seems as if he tries to tackle much bigger ideas and within no time, he’s so consumed in them much to the point that he merely just gets lost in them. It was already apparent in The Place Beyond the Pines, but unfortunately given what more he is allowed to handle directing a period piece, it seems as if he continues to find himself swimming inside of a puddle without being able to put everything together properly. While I certainly have my admiration going out towards Derek Cianfrance and his ambition for what he wants to make out of the material that he is carrying, there’s only a certain level where it can also take him as he only ends up getting too caught up in all of it, and The Light Between Oceans is clear evidence.
Set during the early 20th century, we already have a much more drastic turn for Derek Cianfrance coming along as he tells the story of Tom Sehlbourne and his wife Isabel. The first moments are where it blossoms simply, but it’s from the scene in which Fassbender and Vikander’s characters discover the lost baby where I feel The Light Between Oceans begins to fall apart. While nothing particularly new at first in terms of the way Derek Cianfrance is keeping a good focus on the romance, he soon abandons the idea and then suddenly comes back to this portion of the story. While I’m not against the idea that Cianfrance would want to explore so much more within the backdrop of a romantic period drama, I’m only left wondering why he just had to make the shifts feel all so sudden and also rather jarring.
One of the most annoying aspects to The Light Between Oceans is primarily the fact that there are so many moments in which it is trying to beg for the audience’s tears. Whether it arise from the obvious musical cues (which are rather beautifully composed by Alexandre Desplat) or the imagery which he places in, the problem with it is that it is made far too obvious especially within a scenario like this. We are being told of moments where the film wants us to cry, but the one thing I was asking myself was why I was supposed to care in the first place for any of these people whom we are watching. At the very least it only comes in small doses in the first half, but as more of them come in within the second half as more characters and turns of events are brought into the storyline, they become much more apparent and instead create a jarring effect upon the story.
It’s particularly troublesome when the film is so beautifully acted and there are plenty of scenes that feature some absolutely stunning cinematography. One can already go ahead to note that there is something that arises out of Adam Arkpaw’s beautiful shots, whether it be of the islands or in the cities, but with how pretty all of it looks, it seems like Derek Cianfrance is too distracted by what he has inside of his own hands and he also forgets how to present a compelling story to be told. One would imagine that from such beautiful imagery and amazing performances from Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, and Rachel Weisz, something much better would have come out and instead, what we are presented only comes off as flat and nonchalant.
Ultimately, the biggest problem is that none of the characters whom Cianfrance is focusing on are nearly half as compelling as they should be, for it seems as if their emotions all have been suffocated by the extremely heavy-handed melodrama that runs through the many jarring shifts in tone. As good as Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander may be, together with their chemistry, there’s no clear reason presented for us to find ourselves invested with their story. There’s a level of melodrama that I can find myself appreciating especially when the films of Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray are around, but then there’s another level that just feels as if it is only tugging as opposed to patiently awaiting a reaction, to which The Light Between Oceans falls under. I’ve not read the novel yet so I cannot comment on the subject, but Cianfrance only seemed to aim for soap: and not in a good manner at that.
The Light Between Oceans is a frustrating film – it has so much good that is going for it but its delivery is so sloppy all around. At the very least you’ll have so much more about it that is rather beautiful whether it be the cinematography or the performances, but then there’s the soapiness of the story that ends up sinking everything down, together with the all-too-sudden shifts in tone. It certainly doesn’t help that by the time the final moments come, the writing just takes a nosedive in terms of quality, but it seems as if it follows a rise with a deep fall. Knowing what Derek Cianfrance is able to do when he is handling a much smaller idea as he did with Blue Valentine, I’d wish for him to stick around such because there’s a lot to The Light Between Oceans that reminds me of my qualms with The Place Beyond the Pines: in the sense that they just turn into something else at another point in a jarring manner.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Disney.
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Screenplay by Derek Cianfrance, from the novel by M. L. Stedman
Produced by David Heyman, Jeffrey Clifford
Starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 132 minutes