There’s just something about lighthouses that inspires good psychodrama. In director Kristoffer Nyholm’s “The Vanishing” (scripted by Celyn Jones and Joe Bone), a picturesque, isolated location makes it feel like the characters are stranded on another world, left alone to make their own rules.
Based on the true story of three keepers who mysteriously disappeared from Scotland’s Flannan Isles Lighthouse in 1900, “The Vanishing” stars Peter Mullan as Thomas, a grumpy old salt settling in for a six-week shift. He’ll be manning the light alongside two less-experienced colleagues: a good-natured working-class bloke, James (Gerard Butler), and an angsty youngster, Donald (Connor Swindells).
Mullan brings edginess and gravitas to the kind of role he’s played dozens of times. Butler, though, is a pleasant surprise, departing from his usual one-dimensional action heroes to play a dramatic part — and so well that one wonders why he doesn’t do it more often.
No one knows what actually happened to the Flannan Isles keepers; so the movie proposes a scenario, in which a cache of gold washes ashore, accompanied by some dangerous men. What follows is a kind of sea-sprayed re-imagining of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” where people who barely know each other are driven to violence by their greed, paranoia and guilt.
In other words, this is an old, old story, and Nyholm and his excellent cast don’t exactly make it new. But they do tell it well. And on such a splendid set.
Rated: R, for violence and language
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Playing: AMC Universal CityWalk