Review: Emotional depth keeps light on in ‘Oceans’

Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander give a pair of rich performances in this romantic period drama

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“The Light Between Oceans” comes wrapped in a kind of Nicolas Sparks-like gauze — it’s a romantic period drama about a lighthouse keeper and his wife who harbor a dark secret — but there’s real emotion and consequence in this three-hankie weepie. It earns its tears.

That’s because writer-director Derek Cianfrance is in total control of his material. He explored the relationships between parents and their children in his last film, 2012’s “The Place Between the Pines,” and here he again visits themes of parental decisions and the weight they carry in his adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s 2012 novel.

Michael Fassbender plays Tom, a WWI vet who takes a job manning a lighthouse off the coast of Western Australia. In town he meets Isabel (Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander), and their swift courtship quickly leads to marriage.

They want to start a family, but suffer a devastating pair of miscarriages. That’s when a boat washes ashore containing a dead body and a very alive baby, and, after some hand wringing, they decide to raise the baby as their own. Matters are complicated when it becomes clear the baby is the missing child of Hannah (Rachel Weisz), who lives on the mainland.

Adam Arkapaw’s lush photography (he also shot “McFarland, USA”), along with a trio of rich, complex performances (especially from Vikander) keeps this from being Hallmark Channel material, despite a postscript that nearly takes it there. Cianfrance invests emotional depth into his characters, and the payout is the light that keeps this ship from crashing into the shoreline.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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‘The Light Between Oceans’

GRADE: B+

Rated PG-13: for thematic material and some sexual content

Running time: 132 minutes