Two from the Sea on DVD

ALL IS LOST (2013)
Director: J. C. Chandor
Lionsgate, PG-13 , 105 mins.
* *
Director: Paul Greenglass
Columbia, PG-13, 134 minutes

Two sea tales and two very different results, starting with the fact that the longer of the two seems to speed by in a flash and the shorter one feels like an eternity.

Things go bad--including the script.
All is Lost is set in the Strait of Malacca (between Malaysia and Sumatra) and it’s hard not think of Flight 370, which disappeared just after flying across it. One of the things we’ve learned thus far is that the Indian Ocean is filled with floating junk piles, including shipping containers like the one that pierces the hull of the 39-foot yacht Robert Redford is sailing solo in All is Lost. We don’t know his character’s name, or why he’s alone in the middle of watery nowhere­—just two of several mysteries in this nearly silent film. (After all, how much dialogue can we expect from a loner alone?) All is Lost is ultimately a disaster film in which everything that can go wrong does, and our protagonist puts himself on a crash course on survival. The film’s one big issue is to force us consider what we would do if we were alone and concluded that our situation was hopeless. The movie is beautifully filmed and the building terror is palpable, but it’s ultimately a one-trick pony whose theme is: just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. Its ambiguous ending notwithstanding, All is Lost is ultimately pretty boring once you get the point that the ocean is way bigger than we.

Surprisingly subtle.
Who would have thought that Tom Hanks would out act Robert Redford? He does in the taut drama Captain Phillips, in which he plays the titular character. Okay, so the real Rich Phillips is from Underhill, Vermont, and Hanks' accent won't make you forget Meryl Streep, but he does a superb job commanding the Maersk Alabama that, in 2009, became the first American commercial vessel to be hijacked in nearly 200 years when a small band of Somali pirates boarded it as it rounded the Horn of Africa. The film is really a psychological cat-and-mouse game between Phillips and the four Somalis holding him hostage for ransom. It is a remarkably balanced look at the differences between First and Third World problems. The Somalis are pirates and capable of violence, but the film shows us that they are also desperately poor men doing the bidding of powerful warlords who prey on captives and captors alike, and that container ships are sitting ducks because the firms that own them are too cheap to arm them or pay for security details. As Phillips puts it in an exchange with pirate captain Abdul Muse (Barkhad Abdi), “We all have bosses,” a statement at once meant to moralize and sympathize. As Phillips and Muse learn, they’re not all that different—each of them seeking honor, each seeking to protect his crew, each longing to get to America, and each not entirely the master of his own fate. Phillips knows that once the US Navy arrives on the scene that Muse and his men—one a humble pilot, one just a boy, and the other perhaps a psycho—can’t win, but Muse knows that he can’t go back empty-handed. It’s a classic Mexican standoff and we sit on the edges of our seats to see if any of it will (or even can) end well. I suppose the film could be criticized as a two-hour striptease, but it’s so well done it doesn’t feel manipulative. It would come close to topping my list for the most surprisingly good film of 2013—one I admit to avoiding in the cinema because the previews led me to believe it would be lame. It’s not. Rent this one—it’s not Citizen Kane, but it’s far from being McHale’s Navy. And it’s not white hats versus black hats either.

Rob Weir

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