"GOD HELP YOU if you use voiceover in your work, my friends!" So bellows Robert McKee—or at least the version of Robert McKee played by Brian Cox in Adaptation—in one of his screenwriting seminars. "God help you! That's flaccid, sloppy writing! Any idiot can write a voiceover narration to explain the thoughts of a character!"
There are countless flaccid, sloppy voiceovers in the history of cinema, but at least a few of them exist for a reason—sometimes they really are the best way to explain a character's thoughts. Compared to literature, film's at a disadvantage: It's great at conveying characters' actions, and less great at conveying characters' thoughts.
Case in point: The Loneliest Planet, Julia Loktev's film based on a short story by Tom Bissell. Bissell's "Expensive Trips Nowhere" packs a punch, in no small part because it traps the reader in the confused heads of its main characters—a traveling couple heading into uncharted territory, both physically and emotionally. In The Loneliest Planet, they're played by Hani Furstenberg and Gael García Bernal, and the local guide they've hired is played with stony toughness and subtle resentment by Bidzina Gujabidze. In "Expensive Trips Nowhere," we know this privileged, uneasy couple—where they come from, what they resent, and how they feel as their relationship is slowly broken apart. In The Loneliest Planet, we know... well, we for sure know that they spend a lot of time looking pensive, and even more time walking. (Seriously, there's a lot of walking: The Loneliest Planet is so stultifying slow that it makes The Tree of Life look like a frenetic thriller.)
The Loneliest Planet is pretty to look at, but everything it thinks it says through silence ends up being either dull or underwhelming. Skip it—instead, pick up Bissell's collection God Lives in St. Petersburg and flip to "Expensive Trips Nowhere." It says a hell of a lot in 17 pages, while The Loneliest Planet says remarkably little in two long hours. God help me, it's the sort of movie voiceovers were invented for.