Scarred by the horrors of World War One, army veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) opts for self-exile as a lighthouse keeper as The Light Between Oceans (12A) begins.
When he marries the vivacious Isabel (Alicia Vikander), and she joins him on a remote island off the Australian coast, their happiness seems assured.
Their idyllic existence is shattered, however, when the couple experience the excruciating loss of two miscarriages.
Then Tom rescues an infant, Lucy, from a rowboat adrift at sea.
Adapted from ML Stedman’s novel, and directed by Derek Cianfrance, The Light Between Oceans is a classic weepie with a fascinating moral conundrum at its heart: should Tom and Isabel play along with Fate, which delivered a child into their lives, or should they do the right thing by the child’s grieving mother, Hannah (Rachel Weisz)?
Backdropped by Turner-esque seascapes, it’s an epic tale, and Derek Cianfrance gives it an appropriately stately pace, providing the actors with all the time and space they need to explore the nuances of their dilemma.
All three leads are in superb form, with Vikander and Weisz investing the proceedings with real emotional heft, while Fassbender offers a masterclass in conflict as Tom struggles to square an impossible circle (there is also a tremendously unaffected performance from young Florence Clery as Lucy).
The film does wander into unnecessary melodrama in the latter stages, it’s true, but for the most part it’s an enthralling emotional rollercoaster, both moving and profound.
The Accountant (15A) stars Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff, a book-keeper with a difference. A mathematics savant, Wolff launders money for some of the dirtiest money on the planet from behind his strip-mall storefront.
When he is commissioned by a robotics company to investigate fiscal anomalies, Wolff immediately detects the problem — and soon finds himself fighting a running battle with the US Treasury Department and a small army of hired killers.
The twist in Gavin O’Connor’s stylish thriller is that Christian Wolff isn’t just a math savant but a one-man SWAT team to boot, with the result that the film kicks off like a blend of the Bourne movies and A Beautiful Mind.
Affleck plays Wolff as a kind of conflicted automaton, a man far happier dealing with the logic of numbers than he is with human frailties, a condition which places Wolff far outside his comfort zone when he realises that his actions have put junior accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) in the line of fire.
It’s all very intriguing, not least because we’re never really sure if Wolff is a hero or a villain, with Affleck in terrific form as he invests his robotic character with the rudiments of human emotion, his role supported by a strong cast that includes Kendrick, JK Simmons, Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow.
An overly complex explanation of Wolff’s personal history interrupts the movie’s flow, and the final act doesn’t fully convince as it tries to reconcile the character’s paradoxes, but for the most part The Accountant is a pacy, slick and inventive thriller.
Nocturnal Animals (16s) begins with art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receiving the manuscript of a novel written by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal).
When Susan starts reading, she discovers that the novel is a violent tale in which Tony Hastings (also played by Gyllenhaal) is helpless to intervene when his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber) are abducted by drunk rednecks whilst driving through the badlands of West Texas.
Written and directed by Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals segues between these parallel narratives, the tension rising as we realise that the fictional violence in Edward’s novel may well represent an implicit threat against Susan, who abandoned Edward 20 years previously when he refused to give up on his dream of becoming a writer.
Ford is playful in the way he contrasts the narratives, with the ‘reality’ of Susan’s experience rendered in an austerely hyper-stylised fashion, whilst the ‘fiction’ of Tony’s novel is given a grittily realistic look.
It’s an unusually ambitious narrative gambit, albeit one that doesn’t fully realise its potential (the novel Susan reads is a rather straightforward revenge tale that belies Edward’s supposed genius as a writer), but strong performances from Amy Adams, playing a suppressed ice queen, and Gyllenhaal, in his dual roles as naïve author and devastated husband, get strong support from Michael Shannon in a scenery-chewing turn as an investigating detective.
The result is a thoughtful meditation on revenge and violence, be it physical, psychological or emotional.
The Light Between Oceans 5/5
The Accountant 4/5
Nocturnal Animals 4/5
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved