Image Entertainment // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Chris Claro (Retired) // November 24th, 2010
Old Cape Cod. Old couple. Old story.
Call them "small," "twee," "precious," or "dear," certain films have a slightness that can either add to their charm, or make them crack under the weight of their own self-consciousness. One too many forced performances or brushstrokes of whimsy and what was charming is now insufferable, smothered in the blanket of its own cloying cuteness. Based on a view of its gauzy cover art and seemingly computer-generated tagline -- "Where romance is almost impossible...love always finds a way" -- it's easy to believe The Lightkeepers would fall victim to its own good intentions. But one cannot judge a work by its cover (art).
Seth Atkins (Richard Dreyfuss, Red) is an ornery Cape Cod lighthouse keeper -- and self-proclaimed "woman hater" -- who rescues a man from drowning and takes him in as an assistant. With the details of the younger man's life hazy -- or deliberately cloaked -- Atkins grudgingly comes to accept him as a kindred spirit who has likewise sworn off the ladies. But when a young woman and her older maid come to stay at the only other house within miles of the lighthouse, the steely resolve of both Seth and the man who calls himself "John Brown" (Tom Wisdom, 300) begins to crumble.
Set in 1912, The Lightkeepers is a gossamer romance that once might have been a vehicle for Tracy and Hepburn. That it stars Dreyfuss and Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents) is a credit to the charm and ability of such old pros. Dreyfuss forgoes much of the fussy overacting that can often make him overbearing -- see Stakeout, Once Around, What About Bob? -- and creates a cantankerous old coot whose bluster masks his loneliness. The performance is a reminder of the range that Dreyfuss has always traveled as an actor, whether as a lead or in character parts. (Let's face it: a dyed-in-the-wool liberal such as Dreyfuss who can effectively portray Alexander Haig, in The Day Reagan Was Shot and Dick Cheney, in W -- without turning either evil genius into a caricature -- is an actor with real chops.)
Dreyfuss's Seth goes to monocle-to-hoop-skirt with Danner's dainty Emaline, who arrives at the lighthouse with her employer, young Ruth (Mamie Gummer, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond). It's not giving too much away to say that Seth and Emaline have a history, one that becomes evident as Ruth and John begin to discover one another. Danner's flinty manner is a perfect match for Dreyfuss's bombast, and watching the two play off each other in long, uninterrupted takes emphasizes both what works and what doesn't about The Lightkeepers.
While it's refreshing to watch veteran actors do what they do best, the aforementioned slightness forces the performers, rather than the story, to be the engine that drives the pokey Lightkeepers. The story itself is rice-paper thin, with few surprises and little momentum and the third-act revelations are telegraphed less than halfway through the film. In addition, as spirited as the portrayals by the older actors are, Wisdom and Gummer, despite their luminosity and great hair, aren't helped by the script. Drawn as counterparts to Seth and Emaline, Ruth and John are insipid and wan and their scenes together lack the crackle of the Dreyfuss/Danner pairing. Thank God for brief appearances, late in the film, of both Bruce Dern (Black Sunday), and the legendary Julie Harris (Knots Landing).
Despite the professionalism evident on the screen, The Lightkeepers contains not one, not two, but three different occasions when actors step on each other's lines. Each time the scene was salvaged, but the inclusion of such missteps speaks volumes about what was probably the limited time and budget with which director Daniel Adams (The Golden Boys) had to work.
On Blu-Ray, the Cape Cod locations of The Lightkeepers are magical. In a film free of action, speed, and any obvious CGI, the pristine quality of Blu-Ray makes its mark highlighting the detail and delicacy of the shifting sands and pounding waves. Though the film isn't notable for any aural acrobatics, the DTS-HD audio offers a crisp balance of ambiance and dialogue and allows the surprisingly good original songs to pop. Extras are unmemorable, consisting of a trailer and some interviews, one of which features Dreyfuss in full rabble-rouser mode, trying to draw a line between the film's title and the "darkness" the country came out of with the election of Obama in 2008. Skip it.
Though it's as thin and breakable as puff pastry, The Lightkeepers is a charming, ephemeral little comedy. Power through the scenes of burgeoning young love and luxuriate in watching two solid veterans act the hell out of things.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG