ALL IS LOST
2013, R, 106 mins.
2013, R, 106 mins.
Robert Redford as Our Man
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor
ALL IS LOST is one of the most harrowing human survival films that Iíve ever seen. It not only reiterates why its 77-year-old star, Robert Redford, is one of the greatest of all actors, but it also establishes 39-year-old writer/director J.C. Chandor as one of the preeminent filmmakers working today.
His last film, the terribly underrated
CALL, was a thoroughly intoxicating ensemble drama that served as
a commentary piece for the 2008 Financial Crisis.
ALL IS LOST could not be anymore different as far as sophomore film
efforts go: it has but one cast member, is told virtually dialogue-free,
and focuses ostensibly on one man being lost at sea.
A near wordless film showcasing Redford acting opposite of no one
seems more like a daring stunt than a fully realized film, but
thereís no mistaking the hypnotic power of ALL IS LOST; itís mesmerizing because of its stark simplicity.
plays a man with no name (at least his name is never revealed throughout the course of the film) and
no attempt is made whatsoever to
provide him with a backstory. In essence, we know and learn absolutely nothing about who
this person is or where he came from, which makes for an endlessly compelling
artistic choice. A
biographical portrait of him would have perhaps proven unnecessarily
distracting. All that matters in ALL IS LOST is that itís a primal
journey into seeing this human being emotionally and physically battered
by his attempts to save his own life and get rescued while stuck out in
the middle of the Indian Ocean. Man
versus nature stories are as old as the cinema itself, but ALL IS LOST
treads more intimately and psychologically deeper into the survivorís
mindset than most other similar films.
Moreover, the film reveals how even the most stoic and inwardly
strong of men can be broken down by elements that are not working in his favor.
film opens on a yacht somewhere in the Indian Ocean, as Redfordís
character is quickly awoken to the sound of something making contact with
his vessel. Water begins to
pour into his cabin and sleeping quarters.
When he reaches the deck he notices that the front of his ship as
struck an abandoned cargo container and has caused severe damage.
Interestingly, he does not go into feverous panic mode, but instead
takes it all in stride, gathers what implements he has, and begins to work
on repairing the hole to ensure that the yacht does not sink.
Clearly, the film implies that this is a person with vast
experience in boats and sailing, which is reiterated by his remarkably
strong poise and demeanor in dealing with this situation.
some MacGyver-like intuition, the man does repair the damage, but things
go south really fast when a massive storm Ė as virtuoso of a action
sequence of any Iíve seen Ė swoops in and wreaks further havoc on his
ship. It soon becomes clear
that his industrious repairs may not hold up and, yes, that his ship will
inevitably go down. Still, he
remains steadfastly calm considering the dire situation he finds himself
in; he has no other choice. Emotionally
caving in would prove to be the final nail in his coffin, so the man
decides to abandon ship and test his luck with a few supplies and rations
on an inflatable lifeboat. As
if God is pathetically testing the poor man yet again, another storm brews
on the horizon, but this time he does not have a relatively sturdy boat to
protect him from the hellish elements.
His hope and determination to get through all of this starts to
waneÖbut he nonetheless does not give up.
knows his way around this film with the precision and skill of a director
of twice his maturity. The
film Ė sans a few lines of dialogue by Redford (including a very brief
voiceover track to open the film) Ė does not really require any words,
per say. ALL IS LOST tracks
the progress of one man and his solitary mission to stave off hunger,
thirst, and mental and physical exhaustion.
A film like this does not need any dialogue to relay the fragility
of the human condition when placed against insurmountable odds.
All we need to see is the man use his wits and a whole lot of
intestinal fortitude to brace for what nightmarish circumstance comes
next. Again, knowing whom
this person is and/or where he came from is almost superfluous.
The invigorating power of ALL IS LOST is in its straightforward
exploration of this manís plight.
Redford iconic stature in the annals of cinema hardly needs any
embellishment. I have always
admired his performances without outright thinking that heís one of the
most indispensably talented actors of all-time, maybe because he gives
such deceptively low-key and lived-in performances.
For a man approaching 80, Redford still seems impossibly Ė but
naturally Ė handsome as a rugged leading man presence, but thatís
precisely why heís a pitch-perfect fit for this material.
Chandor understands and plays off of Redfordís inherent strengths
as an actor; the way he commands and holds our attention with his serenely
calm disposition, or the way he conveys a vast network of emotions with a
simple close-up. Redford
certainly has aged, but aged well, and his grizzled exterior makes him
oddly more fascinating as an actor than perhaps when he was younger and
more pristinely attractive.
only does Redford give a completely plausible physical performance Ė he
does a majority of his own stunts here, amazing considering his age Ė
but there is also rarely a moment when you donít buy into the emotional
credibility of his character. You
believe this manís tenacious grit early on and feel for him when he
breaks down under the pressures of his ordeal.
This is one of the most quietly commanding performances he has ever
given, and itís such a rare sight to behold when a bravura performance
compliments faultless directionÖand vice-versa. Chandor also manages to capture the spectacular vastness of
the ocean that surrounds Redfordís character throughout the film, which
comes off as both exquisitely beautiful and forebodingly dangerous at the
ALL IS LOST is not a flashy film on a visual level, per se, like the effects heavy LIFE OF PI Ė but it has the same lasting sense of simmering authenticity about it. Thereís not one scene in ALL IS LOST that feels like itís the product of soundstage or greenscreen work, and itís a testament to Chandorís attention to detail and his overall craftsmanship. Perhaps the filmís greatest effect is, yes, itís sole performance by Redford, whose Oscar nomination level work here completely anchors viewers during the entirety of its running time. Actors approaching the tail end of their legendary careers usually are not known for taking chances and risks, but what Redford does here is certainly a calculate gamble that pays off tremendously. I thought that GRAVITY was the yearís most toweringly spellbinding film about human survival; ALL IS LOST certainly gives Alfonso Cauronís effort a run for its money.