ALL IS LOST. Robert Redford doesn't have anything to prove. He made his bones in the business nearly half a century ago and, a few minor artistic missteps aside, has earned the right to just hang out in Utah — maybe attend the occasional film festival that he created. I certainly wouldn't ask him to take on a role this physically and emotionally demanding. Not so writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), who thought it was about time somebody made Redford thrash around alone in a ruined sailboat, up to his armpits in seawater for as long as it took to film a feature. Well, I'm the one with egg on my face, because the resulting movie is enthralling, scary, desolate and beautiful. Redford delivers one of the most fascinating, evocative performances of the year, and of his distinguished career.
Our Man (Redford), sailing solo in the Indian Ocean, awakes from a nap to find that a floating shipping container has punctured the hull of his boat. The breach is sizable and the craft has already taken on water. He springs into action, but the situation is dire: Not only is the hull compromised, but the deluge has destroyed his radio, navigational equipment and all other onboard electronics. Undeterred, he sets about patching the leak, manually pumping out the bilge and attempting to re-learn celestial navigation. In the early going, it looks like a crisis averted, then a king-hell storm starts whipping up giant peaks on the ocean. Crisis looms unrelenting.
The lines of dialogue in All Is Lost could be counted on two hands, requiring Redford to build a character and carry the narrative weight of the story wordlessly. No easy task, but Redford is remarkable as much for what he doesn't do as for what he does. With small, mannered looks and movements, he shows us that Our Man, while constantly aware of the severity of his situation, will unfailingly meet it with all of his resources and courage. It's a fine balance, and not one that most actors could convey so gracefully: We are left with no doubt that Our Man is scared and alone, but he refuses to submit until literally all is lost.
Chandor wisely lets the restrictions of the setting dictate a visual style: For the first half of the movie, the camera doesn't move beyond Our Man's range of motion on and around his boat. There's an aesthetic shift going into the second half, but it only deepens the intensity.
Despite the intimacy of its plot, All Is Lost required a titanic commitment from its crew, as well as its leading man. It often looks simple, which belies the technical effort and expertise that went into making it happen. It's the kind of risky, ambitious filmmaking that investors tend to shy away from these days, an anti-tent-pole passion project. I'm thankful that everyone involved — maybe especially Redford — took the risk for this singular, nuanced, unforgettable testament to the power of art and imagination. PG13. 106m.
HOMEFRONT. Sometimes it's tough to be a Jason Statham fan. For every Snatch or Crank there's a half dozen of everything else he winds up in. If you like him, you like him, and you will probably find something to enjoy in all but the bottommost of the barrel that is becoming his canon. But it's still a pleasant surprise when he shows up in something decent. Homefront comes off a little heavy-handed and obvious, but it is also a solid, enjoyable action-drama that lets Statham show a little range.
Phil Broker (Statham), a recently widowed former undercover DEA operative, moves with his young daughter to his late wife's backwater Louisiana hometown. Being her father's daughter, young Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) refuses to back down from schoolyard bullies. A dustup with one of them invokes the wrath of the boy's mother (a skeletal, over-the-top Kate Bosworth). She in turn gets her meth-cook brother Gator (James Franco) involved. Broker's past gets dredged up, nasty bikers come to town and Statham gets to start hitting people with car batteries.
Sylvester Stallone wrote the script, at some point intending to star, and it showcases his penchant for simplistic character arcs and outsized plot. But the cast mines some good stuff from it, appearing to have a good time in the process. It's got violence in gleeful excess and an unassailable father-defending-his-daughter through-line. And it makes for a surprisingly satisfying time. R. 100m.
FROZEN. Nobody will decide to see Frozen based on what they read here; of that I am confident. They'll see it because it's a Disney princess movie. They either grew up on Disney princess movies, or want to introduce a new generation to them, or both. That's fine. Disney princess films are not really my thing, per se (see above Statham-worship), but I can appreciate a good one.
That being said, Frozen is pretty middle of the road. It's sweet and cute and often quite pretty. The goofy sidekick (an anthropomorphic snowman) gets in some fun quips, there are adorable trolls and sufficient drama to obscure the fact that we all know how it's going to end. PG. 108m.
— John J. Bennett
OUT OF THE FURNACE. Angry bare-knuckle boxer Casey Affleck disappears, leaving his brother Christian Bale to find him. Woody Harrelson puts out his joint and gets downright villainous. R. 116m.
12 YEARS A SLAVE. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a free-born American sold into slavery in this crushing period piece based on a true story. With a sinister Michael Fassbender. R. 134m.
BAD GRANDPA. Jackass ringleader Johnny Knoxville entertains as an old guy hitting the road (and everything else) with his grandkid. R. 92m.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. Matthew McConaughey sacrifices his abs and gives a top-notch performance as an ailing, HIV-positive bull rider who smuggles treatment drugs. With Jared Leto. R. 117m.
THE DELIVERY MAN. A subdued Vince Vaughn sires 533 children and it's not a horror movie — just disappointing without his manic edge. With Chris Pratt as his doughy foil. PG13. 103m.
ENDER'S GAME. Young genius Ender (Asa Butterfield) is tapped by the military elite to save the planet from alien bugs in this entertaining adaptation of the cult novel. PG13. 114m.
FREE BIRDS. More leftovers: Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson voice animated time-traveling turkeys off to change Thanksgiving's main course. PG. 91m.
GRAVITY. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are adrift in space. It's the best of sci-fi with a real human story. PG13. 90m.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE. Katniss and Peeta are back in the dystopian fray. The actors are game, but with a sanitized production, the odds are not in their favor. PG13. 146m.
LAST VEGAS. The Bucket List meets The Hangover with Hollywood's senior chairmen, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Kevin Kline, in a film that doesn't deserve them. PG 105m.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD. Son of Odin! Hot Norse gods and CG effects everywhere, but not a viable story in sight. PG13. 112m.
LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER. Moving Civil Rights era tale with Forest Whitaker as a White House butler through the decades. PG13. 132m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill