If there’s one thing you can say about writer/director J.C. Chandor it’s that he doesn’t believe in repeating himself. Whereas the Academy Award nominated screenwriter’s feature filmmaking debut Margin Call was entirely fueled by dialogue and brought to life with the same verve and speed of a David Mamet play by its large enviable ensemble cast, his sophomore film All is Lost showcases his impressive range as a cinematic storyteller with an ambitiously minimalist approach.
To this end, he brings us a bare-bones survival story that doubles as a one-man show for his film’s nameless everyman played by the man who’d championed his first feature at Sundance – Robert Redford.
In what producer Neal Dodson refers to as an “existential action movie” that pays as much homage to Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea as it does to Sydney Pollack’s ’72 feature Jeremiah Johnson (which just so happened to star the man he’d written Lost for in Robert Redford), Chandor serves up a sophisticated dramatic thriller that’s as silent as Call was conversational but one that’s equally powerful.
Managing to convey as much meaning as his debut feature with Lost’s roughly thirty-page written screenplay that – aside from a few sparse lines of exclamations, cries for help and well-earned profanity – only offers one traditional voice-over monologue which opens the film, Lost takes us along for our unnamed everyman’s perilous eight day struggle for survival in the Indian Ocean.
Interrupting what we believe had been a smooth voyage so far – as the picture begins our man awakens to discover that he’s struck an abandoned shipping container which has forged a hole in the side of his thirty-nine foot yacht.
Whittling a wooden handle to pump out the water after he patches the breached hull the best he can, the man finds his luck changing from bad to worse when – having fried his radio and navigational equipment from the flood of water that had poured into his yacht in the bravura opening sequence, the man finds himself sailing in the direction of a massive storm.
Relying on the books aboard his vessel to attempt to navigate by the stars as well as his own seaman’s intuition, when his yacht takes a violent hit that fills the sinking ship with water and knocks him out temporarily, he’s left with no choice but to trade the yacht for a life raft in the hopes of hailing a passing boast when the water takes him into a busier shipping lane.
Fighting against the elements in a brave battle of man against nature, Redford’s everyman must come face-to-face with his own mortality and ask himself how far he’s able to go to survive in this deeply affecting drama that’s as thrilling as a cinematic spectacle as it is emotionally moving, taking you along with him from one frame to the next.
And by its lack of details about the man including what he’s doing in the middle of nowhere in the first place, the film acts like a piece of great literature, allowing you to bring to it what you will. This idea is perhaps best exemplified by the picture’s ambiguous ending, which has divided audiences into accepting its one of two conclusions, based on logic, belief system, and personal philosophy (where that all-too-important existentialism comes into play).
However the closure-minded can cite some of the context clues that Chandor has provided from the title of the film which calls to mind “Amazing Grace” as well as the closing credit music from first time composer and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros band leader Alex Ebert, who earned a Golden Globe for his arresting score, which tends to lean towards one concrete conclusion versus another.
Anchored by what is easily the most challenging role of Robert Redford’s career that was extremely well-deserving of an Oscar nomination, the (now) seventy-seven year old actor puts himself through a physical, emotional and psychological gauntlet which is evidenced from start to finish.
A gorgeously executed, thought-provoking 2013 opus, which Chandor had been kicking around in his mind before he even made Margin Call and took him six years to construct before he first yelled “Action” is – like another recent against-all-odds tale of survival via Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful Gravity – a must-see example of purity in storytelling executed at its most visceral, filmic level.
Highly recommended, All is Lost is well-worth tracking down in high definition Blu-ray, for the sharpest image and sound imaginable on the largest screen you’re privy to in order to feel the full transformative effect of the journey that puts you right in the ocean with Redford and inspires you to ask yourself what you would do if faced with a similar endeavor.
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