All is Lost (****/****)
Starring: Robert Redford
Director: J.C. Chandor
No doubt you’ve often heard “you forget you’re watching a movie” as a superlative for something that happens to grip you from the outset. All Is Lost comes extremely close to living up to this otherwise clichéd billing. Written and directed with aplomb by J.C. Chandor, it stars Robert Redford and…well, that’s it. And he’s merely billed as Our Man. All the audience knows about him is that he’s a crackerjack mariner. We don’t know his name. We don’t know what he does for a living. We don’t get some convoluted exposition of his motivations or background. We don’t even know what he’s doing out in the Indian Ocean to begin with. And, quite frankly, who the hell cares? Chandor has made a film so remarkably minimalist that, honestly, it often doesn’t even resemble a movie. The dialogue is equally sparse that it’s jarring – perhaps even disappointing – when Redford finally does speak. The concept of time doesn’t figure in this universe; is he lost at sea for hours? Days? Weeks?
It all begins with a black screen, the soothing sound of sloshing water and steady creaking of aged wood. Our Man is somewhere in this blue desert, a gaping hole freshly punctured into the hull of his 39-foot yacht (of which three real-life copies were used for filming) in the aftermath of a collision with a wayward shipping container. Its contents – dozens of pairs of shoes – bob in the water like diminutive leather lifebuoys. Redford’s reaction is priceless in that there really isn’t one; his weathered face betrays no emotion. He simply assesses his situation as if solving a math problem before resealing the hull with random materials and continuing his journey; he doesn’t pull a generic MacGyver out of thin air. But it’s not long before he’s got much bigger issues literally looming on the horizon than a patch job, a nonworking radio and bland canned-food sustenance.
It will be criminal if Redford does not get a Best Actor nod. Likewise for the cinematography (by Frank DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini); if the Academy isn’t sold after Our Man is forced to endure one mother of a storm, then someone needs to check for a pulse. It’s a lengthy, horrific, not to mention claustrophobic grind – we’re not talking the Gilligan’s Island intro, folks – that’s just a damn amazing sequence in which the sound design and camera work are so mesmerizing, all that’s missing are vibrating theater seats. That’s all I will divulge, because I can’t do it justice without sounding like an overexcited teenager, and, well, you need to experience it for yourself firsthand. There are also sublime underwater shots that would probably make MacGillivray Freeman jealous, whether of iridescent schools of moonfish (I dare you not to flash back at least once to the ones from Finding Nemo) or menacing sharks circling a life raft. Expressing my thoughts here initially proved problematic because that little voice just wanted to pen the equivalent of “Ohmigodyoujustgottaseethismovie!” That being said, I suppose deeming All is Lost one of the best films of the year would be redundant.