Wednesday, December 4, 2013


All Is Lost

Written & Directed
J.C. Chandor

     A man alone at sea. His boat rams into a floating shipping container while he is asleep. He repairs the boat, but it is not enough. He must struggle to survive on the open seas, through violent storms and swimming predators. J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost has only one cast member and hardly any dialogue. Yet, for an hour and forty-five minutes, we watch this unnamed man fight for survival with limited food and water. This is an absolutely breathtaking piece of cinema. Every second is engrossing, suspenseful and full of the amazing power of Chandor and his star, the legendary Robert Redford. The film channels the depths of human nature and how much the mind and body can take. The will to survive and fear of death. All Is Lost is one of the best films of 2013 and one of, if not the finest performance of Redford's career.
     Chandor's film is pure existential cinema. A survival on the high seas film that fights off any cliche or background to add sentimentality to the story or the man. Redford's character has no name and is just called "Our Man." It is a film that is a barebones thriller that treats the audience with respect and intelligence. There are no nostalgic moments that flashback or add to knowing about "Our Man" or his history. It is nothing more than a man doing everything he can to survive. He will not relent his right to live and it is a wonderful metaphor for the believe that no matter the age, the fight and will of a person is so vitally important to our lives and culture. Rip away everything. Get down to the basics. Outstanding filmmaking and production. A skill level that is almost mind-blowing and you have an absolute knockout of a film.
    The only time Redford's character speaks is during the beginning when he is reciting a brief S.O.S call over a blank screen. A few "helps" and a screaming expletive and that is it. It is absolutely stunning that this film even got made in today's fast paced, CG driven Hollywood culture. It is even more amazing that the film is as brilliant as it is and how riveting each scene can be. Much of that is due to the talent behind the camera in J.C. Chandor, but equally it is because of the will, character and survivalist instinct of "Our Man." That man is played so effectively by Redford. Is aged face and older body never once stalls or gives himself the time to give up. As soon as he wakes up to see the break in the hull of his boat, he gets to work. When he is forced onto his life raft in the middle of the Indian Ocean, it is completely absorbing every time he pumps water out of the raft and looks at his map using a sextant to calculate his coordinates. Astounding and completely thrilling.
     I never once was bored or worried about a nearly dialogue-free film not being entertaining. This is perfectly satisfying and every second of it is entertaining. I found it to be one of the most impressive and engaging films I have ever seen in my life. I feel the film will definitely be a hard sell to Joe and Jane Popcorn, but it should not be. Watching Redford fight for his survival on the open sea is truly a wondrous feat. I cannot speak highly enough of Mr. Redford's performance. I have always thought he was a good actor, but never great. This is his great, defining role. He is a legend, being in classic films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, All the President's Men  and Jeremiah Johnson, but he is acting on the highest of levels here. An almost silent performance of pure excellence and honesty. Easily, along with Ejiofor and McConaughey, one of the best acting jobs this year, or any year for that matter.
     Much credit deserves to be given to writer-director J.C. Chandor. Going from his big cast and dialogue driven first and Oscar nominated film Margin Call (2011), he goes in the complete opposite direction with All Is Lost. A 30 page script, with little dialogue and only one cast member. Wow! He exemplified so much range, talent and a director that appears to challenge himself with rewarding results. Chandor is definitely a director on the rise and one that is full of so much creativity that I cannot wait to see what he does next. Actually, his next film is A Most Violent Year, set to star Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac. Excited for that one already with the great success of Margin Call and All Is Lost.
     I must also credit the whole production on this film beyond the writing, directing and acting. The minimalist score from Alex Ebert is soft and almost unrecognizable at times, but slowly builds and adds great suspense and wonder to the film. The sound mixing and editing are excellent as well. Another standout is the cinematography from Frank G. DeMarco. Lit wonderfully and always keeping a pristine eye on the  importance of the film with exquisite clarity and focus. Raves for everyone that helped get this film made and made it into what it turned out to be. A true wonder of cinema.
     In a decade where filmmaking is becoming more and more about the money, the sequels and the cheap scares, it is profoundly exciting to have a film like All Is Lost. A film that I am astonished got made in this current film culture and one that focuses on a sole man's will to survive. Not going the traditional route with cheesy flashbacks and over sentimental reminiscing. An existential masterpiece of craft, storytelling, directing and acting, this film is working on the highest of levels. Rolling on all cylinders. Redford's career defining moment, that is full of many fantastic performances, and a writer-director that is on fire. No sophomore slump for Chandor. All Is Lost is one of the best films of the year, a triumph and one that I am truly thankful was made.

Photo credit by IMDB.

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