ALL IS LOST
***1/2 (out of 5)
November 1, 2013
Robert Redford as OUR MAN
Studio: Roadside Attractions
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
BY KEVIN CARR
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Even if it’s not the greatest movie of the year, “All Is Lost” is certainly one of the most unique movies of the year. In a cinema landscape dominated by massive visual effects, pounding soundtracks and arguably overblown casts featuring a dozen or so big names, “All Is Lost” is an oddity.
The film is simple, yet more complex than it first appears. It opens with a nameless man (Robert Redford, credited simply as “Our Man”) waking up on his sailboat. The cabin is partially flooded, and upon investigation, he discovers that he had rammed into a floating storage container. Our Man starts methodically cleaning up his cabin and repairing his boat. However, as he continues on his journey, Mother Nature starts throwing more and more difficulties his way – from storms to water damage. In a war of attrition against the brutal sea, Our Man struggles to survive alone on the ocean.
A lot of attention has been heaped on Redford for his performance in “All Is Lost,” and I’m not here to take any of that away. However, I break with the rest of reviewers in the sense that I found him to be the most distracting thing in the film. I know that sounds odd to say about a movie that literally has only one actor in it, but it wasn’t his performance but rather his Redfordness that I found attractive.
When he was silent (which is through much of the movie), I was on board. It’s when he spoke that we were suddenly reminded that he was Robert Redford, Movie Star. Fortunately the speaking lines are few and far between, and his otherwise downplayed performance in silence was much more compelling.
The other problem with Redford is that, at 77, he’s just too damn old for the film. I’ve been struggling to avoid puns about “The Old Man and the Sea,” but there just isn’t too much peril I can feel for a guy pushing 80 who’s terrified of dying alone in the ocean. Still, he doesn’t seem as woefully out-of-place for his age as he did in his film “The Company You Keep” from earlier this year.
But Redford’s Redfordness aside, “All Is Lost” is surprisingly compelling. Unlike the other stranded at sea film “Life of Pi” from last year, “All Is Lost” is more about the seclusion and desolation than the spiritual and fantastic. Yet, the film works. It’s paced remarkably well for such a low-key concept. I found the steps of survival at sea fascinating, and it also opened up a realistic presentation of the sometimes mundane forces of nature that can be lethal.
Of course, there’s a lot of subtext in the film as well, particularly the juxtaposition of nature versus man-made elements. It’s a man-made item (a lost shipping crate filled with children’s sneakers) that draws first blood from the boat. Then the infection of nature seeps in, and it becomes impossible to contain. Similar symbolic items crop up throughout the film, including contaminated drinking water in one scene, that demonstrate man’s futility of control in face of the natural world.
In this sense, “All Is Lost” is more about a man trying to live while his sailboat takes some vital hits on the chin. It may not be the kind of film you want to view multiple times for the story and the character, but it should hold up to scrutiny of symbolism and meaning, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Serving as an intriguing companion piece with this fall’s box office juggernaut “Gravity,” “All Is Lost” offers an alternative of isolation survival with a compelling journey. It may not be the best of the year, but it’s a film that you can get a lot out of if you look deep enough.