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What’s it About?

After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.

“All is Lost”

Directed by J.C. Chandor

9 / 10

By Vic

J C Chandor, who directed the under-rated and significant “Margin Call,” back in 2011, follows up that film with an absorbing and enveloping one man show called “All is Lost,” which he also wrote. The film stars the 77 year old stalwart red headed actor, Robert Redford (Spy Game, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as the main  (and only) protagonist named simply, “Our Man.’ It appears that “Our Man” is alone on his sailing vessel out in the middle of the Indian Ocean and why are not given any reason as to why he is out on his own in the middle of nowhere with a small yacht. Who is he? Is he really any good with boats? Is it his yacht? Or did he steal it? Is he an escaped convict making a break for it? Ok, that last one is a stretch but you get the idea.

Chandor’s film starts right off with this solitary individual doing a calm and subdued voice over and lamenting over his hardened personal life (among other things that are later relevant to the story) that he feels he has failed at on some levels. At the film’s on set we have no back story other than Our Man appears to be a sort of agreeable and affluent professional who has lived the high life and is an avid sailor and yachtsman. Or seem we think. Hmm.

Chandor’s film is a rare beast right out of the gate. No real dialog (though Redford does utter some short lines about 3 or 4 times) to speak of. No exposition, narrative or even an introduction. Our Man is on a solo venture through the Indian Ocean and we are right there with him. Chandor’s exploratory, almost Hemingway-esque movie pitts Redford’s quiet and unassuming Our Man against nature and the elements. Chandor and Redford equally establish the inevitability of what is to come by showing us the total isolation and remoteness of the situation Our Man finds himself in.

Plus, being at the whim of the great ocean, where Our Man tries to survive, is a daunting proposition. After the brief VO, Chandor, switches things up and thrusts Our Man right into calamity. Once, Our Man, discovers that his vessel has been damaged (above the water line) by a large cargo container full of athletic shoes (the irony of consumerism being the end of us all wasn’t lost on me), he starts, ever so calmly, to try and salvage his boat. He starts by applying patches to the hole once he removes the container. Afterwards, it becomes a race against time to keep his boat afloat.

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Redford’s character is a cool cat. We get the impression that he knows what he’s doing. But then again, do we really know if he is even that familiar with boats and sailing? Apparently, some of his decisions, though, mannered and precise may not be the right ones. But Redford sells it. As the film progresses, Our Man faces one obstacle after the other. Storms, Rain, winds, high waves and even dehydration all rear their ugly heads in order to put an end to Our Man. In one dramatic fight for survival, Redford, has his boat actually turned around a few times during a brutal onslaught of storm waves. This sequence will have you on the edge of your seat.

Redford delivers an understated and calm performance through out, except when he demonstrates frustration at the situation he’s in and he resorts to cursing at himself aloud. It is a slow burn performance that is exceptionally well handled by Redford, who was never really an over the top or up-stagey actor. His turn here displays incredible resolve and restraint. We get to know Redford’s character by his mannerisms, mistakes, struggles and even that resolve I mentioned that is much more telling than any hysterical theatricality. Chandor continually throws things at Our Man to overcome but the film does pause long enough to show us peaceful bits of calm seas and Chandor inserts beautifully photographed scenes of underwater marine life, all with Redford’s yacht and eventually life raft, in the frame, from underneath.

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Along with Redford’s excellent and minimalist consummation is the absorbing work of DP ‘s Frank G. DeMarco (Margin Call) and underwater photographer Peter Zuccarini (Heart of the Sea, Pirates of the Carribean). The compositions, framing and especially the lighting between night and day shots are impeccable and unblemished. One sequence with a shot of a school of sharks is especially frightening. The above and underwater vistas are gorgeous to behold and take in. Also, of note, is the incredible piano driven score, here, by Golden Globe winner Alex Ebert (Curfew). The score is note perfect and pure. It takes us on a type of out of body and ethereal journey that parallels the plight of “Our Man.” It’s simply beautiful to listen to.

Redford, Chandor and crew have done a convincing and captivating job with “All is Lost.” Redford, as it stands, was snubbed this year for an Oscar nod but it’s ok. Someone always gets snubbed and you should not miss out on this film because of that. Redford knocks it out of the park and the film is gorgeous, shocking and exploratory. Now, I am not a sailor or yachtsman but apparently the film is being picked apart and lambasted for it’s accuracy, or rather, in-accuracies regarding the seamanship and decisions of “Our Man.”

I guess the gripe is with the many mistakes, missteps and blunders (like I mentioned, what if he isn’t even an experienced yachtsman, if we don’t even have a back story?) that he makes through-out the film. Most likely, you will not even be able to pick these things out but I just want to say this: It’s a drama! Ok, maybe he goofs up and maybe there are glaring mistakes in the technical department but that should not totally distract you from enjoying this amazing one man show from “Our Man,” Robert Redford. Highly recommended!

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