RATING 3 stars
PLOT A couple desperate for a child miraculously find one lost at sea.
CAST Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
RATED PG-13 (adult themes)
BOTTOM LINE Grand filmmaking in the service of a romantic, if slightly contrived story
Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans” hangs on the screen like a large, lovely painting in a beautiful old frame. Its most breathtaking visuals are of landscapes and the sea, while dramatic figures move through the foreground expressing love, loss and remorse. Is it a work of art? It’s certainly an example of craft of an extraordinarily high quality.
Based on M.L. Stedman’s 2012 bestseller, “The Light Between Oceans” tells the story of Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a traumatized World War I veteran who takes the most isolated job he can find: lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock in Western Australia. He’s not alone for long. Sherbourne’s quiet masculinity intrigues Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), a pretty girl from the nearest town, and the two marry. Their meditative life of daily chores amid natural beauty are captured by cinematographer Adam Arkapaw.
The Sherbournes want a child but, as we learn in two agonizing scenes, Isabel cannot conceive. And so it seems like a sign when the tide brings a dinghy containing a healthy baby girl. It also contains a dead man, but Isabel has made her choice — she is a mother now, and Tom reluctantly agrees to make her dream a reality. When they learn the identity of the baby’s mother, Hannah (Rachel Weisz), their deception begins to unravel.
Cianfrance is a filmmaker who likes his emotions heightened, naked and gut-wrenching. “Blue Valentine” plumbed the depths of a disintegrating marriage. His “The Place Beyond the Pines” told the story of a criminal undone by good intentions. “The Light Between Oceans” swoons with romantic ideals of love and sacrifice. Cianfrance isn’t afraid to embrace a cliche if he thinks it works: in this film, storm clouds signal trouble, old letters speak from the grave and lovers actually walk on clouds. He’s so sincere that he basically gets away with it. At his best, Cianfrance is a capital-R Romantic transplanted from the 19th century. He can also come across like a feel-bad version of Cameron Crowe.
“The Light Between Oceans” looks amazing, its actors are in terrific form and its score, by Alexandre Desplat, swells with feeling. Impressive as it is, though, it’s the kind of work that you gaze at, and then move on.
4 more instant-parent films
In “The Light Between Oceans,” a bundle of joy shows up and enters the lives of childless lighthouse dwellers Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender. Instant parenting is also a theme in these four movies.
THE KID (1921) — Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp is left to care for an orphan in this bittersweet comedy. The title character was played by 6-year-old Jackie Coogan, who grew up to play Uncle Fester on TV’s “The Addams Family.”
BACHELOR MOTHER (1939) — Shopgirl Ginger Rogers is mistaken as the mom to a foundling, and things get even more complicated when it’s believed her boss (David Niven) is the dad. Adding to the fun in this rollicking comedy is a gag involving a windup Donald Duck toy.
BABY BOOM (1987) — A baby is left on the doorstep of high-powered career woman Diane Keaton. She and her ward head to Vermont where the new mom finds success making baby food and romance with a veterinarian (Sam Shepard).
THREE MEN AND A BABY (1987) — A trio of bachelors (Ted Danson, Steve Guttenberg and Tom Selleck) become a trio of Mr. Moms after one of their former girlfriends drops off a surprise package. The unexpected hit led to an inferior 1990 sequel, “Three Men and a Little Lady.”
— Daniel Bubbeo