A movie star of a certain age on a yacht would ordinarily be spending his time making life look effortless and splendid—but nothing could be further from what befalls the nameless protagonist Robert Redford plays in J.C. Chandor’s oceanbound survival drama. Forsaking the chatter of his risibly exposition-heavy Margin Call (11), and one-upping Life of Pi by stripping things down to the bare minimum, Chandor charts an admirably uncompromising if curiously aloof course into nothingness.
From the title on down, there’s not much hope to latch on to. Redford’s lone man adrift has embarked on a solo trip into the middle of nowhere, an escape perhaps related to a thorny relationship with his family that we hear about in voiceover. A shipping container punctures his boat’s hull and, with it, his quietly macho illusion of self-sufficient solitude. Winds blow, water rushes in, gadgets fail, death’s arrival is quantifiable in days, and God (or Whoever) doesn’t blink.
Redford’s air of self-possession and weathered mien do seem peculiarly suited to the elemental, go-it-alone story (talk about independent film!), though he is at times restrained to a fault. Chandor’s control (except for some overbearing music) and the film’s near-absence of dialogue successfully induce a sense of contemplation about what a life well-lived might mean, even if none of that matters in the final countdown. But there remains a nagging feeling that the film’s drama may just be an efficiently executed exercise.