“You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day”.
In my review of “The Two Faces of January” I described it as a film that “will be particularly enjoyed by older viewers who remember when story and location were put far ahead of CGI-based special effects”. In watching this film I was again linking in my mind to that earlier film… and that was before the lead character suddenly brought up the two faces of Janus!
For this is a good old-fashioned weepy melodrama: leisurely, character based and guaranteed to give the tear ducts a good old cleaning out.
It’s 1918 and Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a damaged man seeking solitude and reflection after four years of hell in the trenches. As a short-term job he takes the post of lighthouse keeper on the isolated slab of rock called Janus – sat between two oceans (presumably as this is Western Australia, the Indian and the Southern Oceans). The isolation of the job previously sent his predecessor off his trolley.
En route to his workplace he is immediately attracted to headmaster’s daughter Isabel (Alicia Vikander) who practically THROWS herself at Tom (the hussy), given that they only have snatches of a day at a time to be together during shore leave. Tom falls for her (as a hot blooded man, and with Vikander’s performance, this is entirely believable!) and the two marry to retire to their ‘fortress of solitude’ together to raise a family and live happily ever after…. or not… For the path of true motherhood runs not smoothly for poor Isabel, and a baby in a drifting boat spells both joy and despair for the couple as the story unwinds.
(I’ll stop my synopsis there, since I think the trailer – and other reviews I’ve read – give too much away).
While Fassbender again demonstrates what a mesmerising actor he is, the acting kudos in this one really goes again to Vikander, who pulls out all the stops in a role that demands fragility, naivety, resentment, anger and despair across its course. While I don’t think the film in general will trouble the Oscars, this is a leading actress performance that I could well see nominated. In a supporting role, with less screen-time, is Rachel Weisz who again needs to demonstrate her acting stripes in a demanding role. (Also a shout-out to young Florence Clery who is wonderfully naturalistic as the 4 year old Lucy-Grace.)
So this is a film with a stellar class, but it doesn’t really all gel together satisfyingly into a stellar – or at least particularly memorable – movie. After a slow start, director Derek Cianfrance (“The Place Beyond the Pines”) ladles on the melodrama interminably, and over a two hour running time the word overwrought comes to mind.
The script (also by Cianfrance, from the novel by M.L.Stedman) could have been tightened up, particularly in the first reel, and the audience given a bit more time to reflect and absorb in the second half.
The film is also curiously ‘place-less’. I assumed this was somewhere off Ireland until someone suddenly starting singing “Waltzing Matilda” (badly) and random people started talking in Aussie accents: most strange.
Cinematography by Adam Arkapaw (“Macbeth”) is also frustratingly inconsistent. The landscapes of the island, steam trains, sunsets and the multiple boatings in between is just beautiful (assisted by a delicate score by the great Alexandre Desplat which is well used) but get close up (and the camera does often get VERY close up) and a lack of ‘steadicam’ becomes infuriating, with faces dancing about the screen and – in one particular scene early on – wandering off on either side with the camera apparently unsure which one to follow!
A memorable cinema experience only for Vikander’s outstanding performance. Now where are those tissues…
Fad Rating: FFF.
Agree? Disagree? Please comment below!
(Trailer: as above, I reckon you shouldn’t watch this trailer if you’ve avoided it to date as it gives too much of the plot away).