Cineastes will embrace director JC Chandor’s sophomore voyage, ‘All is Lost’ as pure cinema at its best. This is quite opposite to his acclaimed film debut, ‘Margin Call’ which was a talkfest about the 2008 financial disaster on Wall Street. ‘All is Lost’ is a minimalist film about man against nature. The guy against the unmerciful elements of the sea is Robert Redford (only identified as “Our Man” in the credits). It’s a performance of a lifetime. This film could have easily been titled, ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ after Ernest Hemingway’s last major published work before his death. However, there is no battle with a fish here. Simply put, it is Mr. Redford trying to survive against the relentless hardships thrown at him by the ocean.
All we know is what is in front of us. Our man is sailing in the Indian Ocean. He is the lone sailor on a 40-foot yacht, the Virginia Jean. There is no backstory but a wedding ring on his finger reveals his connection with a distant family. He’s obviously rich similar to a retired CEO who wants to keep challenged with expensive hobbies like sailing. By the way, for being 77-years-old, Redford is in terrific shape. He’s a bit weathered around the edges with leathery skin but still has a shaggy mane of hair and distinguished good-looks. The only dialogue comes from his voice-over that recites a melancholy farewell letter to unnamed loved ones. The predicament that creates this opening voice-over comes eight days earlier when a drifting metal cargo container knocks into his boat and pokes a hole into the hull.
This film clocks in at 106 minutes and you’ll never have the urge to check your watch on how much time is left. It’s an engrossing and well-crafted piece of filmmaking. Unlike other survival films, Redford doesn’t have a volleyball to talk to like Tom Hanks did in ‘Cast Away’ or a Bengal tiger like Suraj Sharma had in ‘Life of Pi.’ No, Redford must endure incredible odds with noble stoicism and fortitude completely alone. He shows off his resourcefulness in many ways through his journey. He works to repair the hole as best he can. Going any further would spoil this survival adventure. Every moment of the film is a constant endurance test for our man. How much can one man endure? This film brilliantly touches on man’s innate will to survive.
This is an existential film at its barest. The filmmaking is first-rate. Chandor’s direction is taut. The cinematography is superb. The camerawork of Frank G. DeMarco on board the sailboat is urgent. Life of Pi’s Peter Zuccarini achieves magnificent underwater footage of sea creatures always lurking. The wide angle shots perfectly show our man’s tiny vessel against the immensity of the deep blue sea. It’s powerful. What can be said about Redford’s performance? It is nothing less than phenomenal. It definitely deserves recognition from The Academy. It’s going to be a very competitive and exciting award season indeed.
There can be some subtle parallels drawn in the story. You have this rich, privileged consumer partaking in the fruits of life and achievement. He is cruising along the ocean in a state-of-the art yacht. His boat crashes into a cargo box full of sneakers for the global economy. It’s an interesting parable. The way our hero handles catastrophe is honorable. It takes an iconic actor to pull it off. Redford handles the challenge with the skill of a master craftsman. Chandor’s shooting script was approximately 30 pages long. The typical screenplay is roughly 100 pages long and has one minute of dialogue per page. It is an impressive achievement by the filmmaker and the actor to hold the viewer’s attention throughout the duration of the story.
If you want to see a veteran actor at his best, don’t miss ‘All is Lost’ now playing exclusively at The Flicks, downtown Boise and an art house theater near you. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/Lk_R04LfUQU. Here’s my review of JC Chandor’s excellent debut film, ‘Margin Call’ back in 2011: http://www.examiner.com/review/margin-call-movie-review-1.