By Carl Kozlowski
It’s been a while since I’ve spanked a film with a bad review. But this week, two recently released movies—the Robert Redford vehicle All Is Lost and Kill Your Darlings, a story about the birth of the Beat Generation—richly deserve to be criticized.
Both movies, hitting theaters Friday after limited runs last weekend, are good illustrations of the fact that a film with the “right” people or subject matter will be lauded by critics, even if audiences can’t stand them.
In this regard, All is Lost, starring Redford as a man who finds himself alone on a yacht far out on the open ocean, is the bigger offender of the two.
As the story goes, Redford’s character is awakened one night after his vessel is hit by a giant metal shipping container that apparently fell off a cargo ship, leaving a gaping hole in his boat that quickly starts taking in water. Redford must figure out how he’s going to save himself once his electrical outlets blow out and he’s left without a radio in the middle of a watery nowhere.
Along the way, Redford’s character, unnamed in the film and listed only as “Our Man” in the credits, must battle storms, leaks, dwindling supplies and near drowning. This might sound exciting, but Our Man has no one to talk to throughout the entire movie.
There’s barely any music, either, except in a few dramatic moments, leaving audiences left with about as much entertainment as Our Man gets to enjoy. If you want to see an old man get sunburned, eat a lot of canned beans, lie around in desperation, pump water out of a ship and fight drowning three separate times, this is your movie.
At the screening I attended, at least half the audience abandoned ship, grumbling loudly about either feeling seasick or thoroughly bored or both. At one point, Redford treats us to a single moment of him screaming “Fuck!” at the heavens. The audience will entirely relate to his frustration.
It’s a shame, because Redford once made meaningful films and cared about entertaining people. But apparently not anymore, with the iconic actor making one dirge-like film after another, all focusing on various aspects of old age and mortality that have invariably bombed.
Unfortunately, viewers trapped in this movie, which lacks a straight narrative, will feel that they’ve lost time and money to two hours of unrelenting dreariness.
Also lacking a straight narrative, albeit in a different way, is Kill Your Darlings, the story of how the Beat Generation of poets and writers—Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs—all seemed to be bound together by secret gay trysts and a now largely forgotten murder. Following the young artists as they meet in college and attempt to break through what they see as the prisons of conventional art and expression, the movie spends chunks of time depicting their heavy drinking and drug experimentation, as well as the roundelay of relationships they went through as some had to maintain marriages to cover the tracks of their closeted lives.
Despite all the partying and illicit sex, all of these guys seem utterly miserable and behave obnoxiously toward the rest of society. No one’s saying that a movie has to be about positive heroic characters, but Kill is likely to make audiences feel like they’ve been invited to a party populated by people they can’t stand.
The big casting coup in this film is Daniel Radcliffe, who’s making about as far a leap away from Harry Potter as possible to avoid being typecast. Let’s just say that between the drug use and the graphic bedroom action, this isn’t a movie you’ll want your youngsters to touch with a 10-foot wand.
Last year’s film adaptation of On the Road ended decades of aborted attempts to turn Kerouac’s largely shapeless, mood-driven novel into a movie. It failed miserably, again likely because the people who seem so romantic and exciting on the page are almost sociopathic on the screen in their endless drive to satisfy any desire that comes their way.
For those interested in seeing this film, take my advice: Read the book instead.