References to glacial pacing and aimless drifting are unavoidable when discussing “Red Knot,” an interminable mix of attractive nature documentary and enervating romantic drama. New York artist and stage director Scott Cohen, here making his debut as a feature filmmaker, places far too much faith in the ability of his actors to elicit and sustain audience interest while improvising their way through the tissue-thin narrative he has provided them. Still, the movie might have a future on home video, where viewers can fast-forward through the dull stretches and savor all the images of icy landscapes and Antarctic wildlife.
Newly married Chloe (Olivia Thirlby) and Peter (Vincent Kartheiser) sign up for a kinda-sorta honeymoon aboard an enhanced steel research vessel bound for Antarctica. For Peter, a writer obsessed with the exploits of arctic explorers, the trip also serves as a golden opportunity to interview knowledgeable fellow passengers — including noted environmentalist Roger Payne, who appears as himself — for an article he’s writing.
Trouble is, the more time Peter spends chatting up the experts, the less time he spends with his increasingly bored wife. Worse, Chloe’s unhappiness metastasizes into rage and resentment when she learns — from a fellow passenger, not her husband — that Peter is preparing a book project that will keep them apart for a year. Before long, the newlyweds are sleeping in separate cabins, and Chloe is spending a lot of time with the ship’s ruggedly handsome captain (Billy Campbell).
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As “Red Knot” (very) slowly unwinds, Thirlby conveys an impressive range of emotions through the eloquence of her facial expressions and body language. Like Kartheiser, however, she labors under the burden of playing a role that is more a vague concept than a fully developed character.
To his credit, Cohen seamlessly blends his actors with the passengers and crew members aboard an actual Antarctic cruise. Better still, lenser Michael Simmonds deftly contrasts the claustrophobic intensity of characters interacting aboard the ship with the vast and awesome Antarctic wildness surrounding them. In one particularly striking scene, Simmonds neatly balances Thirlby, Kartheiser and several hundred penguins in the same frame. Unfortunately, nothing else in “Red Knot” registers quite the same impact.