All Is Lost

1n the midst of the vast Indian Ocean, a lone man (Robert Redford) in a 39 foot yacht is jolted awake by a loud bang. He's hit a floating cargo container and water is pouring into the hold. After securing his boat, he returns to the hold where he is now up to his hips in water with his electricity is out and his laptop ruined, but it will be eight more days before he sends a letter in a bottle declaring "All Is Lost."

Laura's Review: B-

Just out of a Quebec prison, Dennis (Paul Giamatti) is determined to go straight for his family, but he's confronted with nothing but disappointment and obstacles. His wife Therese (Amy Landecker, "A Serious Man") has given up on him, telling their daughter Michi (Tatyana Richaud) he is dead. His cluelessly cheerful parole officer tells him there are no jobs to be had and his best friend and former partner in crime Rene (Paul Rudd), the man who's absence on their last job cost Dennis his freedom, has been seeing his wife. But Rene has successfully gone straight as a trucker and when Dennis hears he'll be hauling Christmas trees to New York City he demands to be let in on the job in "All Is Bright." It's been eight long years since director Phil Morrison's last theatrical feature, the regional American masterpiece "Junebug," so it was exciting news to hear of his return. But while his latest also features familial upheaval and layers of regional and character undercurrents, it doesn't hold a candle to his last. "All Is Bright" is an offbeat, melancholy Christmas story with raggedy edges. Giamatti and Rudd are opposites, of course, the first Paul a dour pessimist, the latter a chatty optimist. Dennis is apoplectic when he sees Rene's Brooklyn site - a triangular lot full of garbage. After the lot is cleared and their bare-bones display is set up, along comes their second obstacle, a cheery, musical Vermont tree outlet across the street. Dennis uses his thuggery to clear them out. Sales are lousy (and you can blame the pitchmen) until, with Rene gone, Dennis is shocked to not only sell a tree to Russian emigre Olga (Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"), but to be schooled that his asking price is about 10% what it should be. When he delivers the tree later that night, he gets another surprise, the kind-hearted Olga having allowed him to sleep off his exhaustion until morning. Dennis keeps struggling, though, especially when he learns that Rene intends to marry Therese. Even when he's accepted that and sales have finally turned in their favor, another disaster looms in the form of a customer who is not at all what he seems. And there's the crux of the matter - in attempting to go straight, is Dennis changing something essential about his character? "All Is Bright" finds a unique solution towards a Christmas miracle, even if it doesn't leave all its characters contented. Those expecting a traditional happy ending may be disappointed, but writer Melissa James Gibson stays true to her characters even if it leaves her audience wanting. Morrison's pacing is relaxed, even a bit ramshackle, a device using quick cuts of Dennis's daughter opening her Advent calendar to note the passing days awkward. Giamatti doesn't give us anything we haven't seen from him before, despair being one of his stocks in trade, but we feel Dennis's pain and struggle. Rudd's Rene is another of his likeably clueless losers. Hawkins is lovely as the blunt Russian, whose real identity isn't what it first appears - she's the character one most wishes the filmmakers hadn't left behind, although her final scene is, again, very in keeping with her character. In a small role, Colman Domingo ("Lincoln," "Lee Daniels' The Butler") adds a bit of cheer as street vendor Nzomo, another emigre whom Dennis hires to mind the store while Rene's off on his benders. The film's production is modest but effective. Music consists of jazzy versions of religious Christmas standards. "All Is Bright" is a dark comedy that's not often funny, but this quirky character piece has real heart.

Robin's Review: DNS