Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Movie with Abe: All is Lost

All is Lost
Directed by J.C. Chandor
Released October 18, 2013

There’s something to be said for a one-man show. It takes commitment for one person to embody an entire cinematic universe, and to keep audiences watching when not one other person shows up on screen. It makes sense at this point in the career of respected actor Robert Redford, who is now seventy-seven years old, to embark on such a challenging endeavor. It’s a more intriguing and unconventional choice for writer-director J.C. Chandor, whose first film, “Margin Call,” featured an ensemble packed with talented players. Fortunately, its one-man journey is relatively engaging, staying mostly on course for the whole of its 106-minute runtime.

This film’s title conveys its bleak attitude, and, in one of the film’s few spoken lines, Redford’s unnamed protagonist utters that phrase at the beginning of the film before the story flashes back to eight days earlier. As the man sleeps peacefully on his boat, he wakes up to release that a shipping container has collided with his mobile lodging and has damaged the boat enough to let disconcerting amounts of water inside, ruining his electronics and forcing him to make serious repairs. As a storm approaches, the film’s promised darkness literally looms over the man as he prepares for an epic battle with nature.

This reviewer had the opportunity to screen “All is Lost” immediately following “Gravity,” another film about being marooned in a solitary situation with no hope of being discovered by passersby. The crucial difference here, aside from the space setting, is that Redford’s main character is definitively alone, whereas the two astronauts in “Gravity” at least had each other. By comparison, the other film is far more enthralling and intoxicating, but there’s an unmistakable grittiness to “All is Lost” which makes it worthwhile, and makes its endless sea setting feel completely infinite.

Throughout his career, Redford has been recognized much more for his work behind the camera than in front of it. Despite earning an Oscar nomination in 1973 for his lead performance in “The Sting,” Redford has become more admired for his directing work, winning an Oscar for helming “Ordinary People” and earning additional nominations in that category in other years. His turn here is emotional, but it’s hardly comparable to that of Tom Hanks in “Cast Away,” not embodying his film as spectacularly. The film as a whole deserves more credit, best thought of as “Life of Pi” without the tiger and the magic: an utterly real and human story about one man and his refusal to give up in the face of certain doom.


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