By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — All Is Lost isn’t for everybody, given the way it flies –- well, floats –- in the face of conventional wisdom and throws caution to the wind. Literally.
But this existential drama rewards the patient, appreciative moviegoer with its austere beauty and rigorous attention to detail.
Consider this: there’s only one character, we never learn his name, and he barely speaks a line.
He’s played by Robert Redford, he’s identified in the end credits only as “Our Man,” his is the only face we see, and we’re offered virtually no backstory.
Other than that, All Is Lost is a crowded, viewer-friendly chatfest!
It opens with Redford awakening on his yacht, the Virginia Jean, as he sails, alone, following a shipwreck, on the Indian Ocean.
His 39-foot sailboat is taking on water because it has collided with an abandoned shipping crate left floating on the sea, and his radio and navigation equipment are damaged beyond repair.
Things could only get worse, as he tries to repair the boat itself and battles the elements, if a violent storm were to ensue. Sure enough…
As the days pass –- eight of them, to be exact –- and his survival looks more and more improbable by the hour, he displays impressive resourcefulness, but it doesn’t appear to be sufficient to save him.
Writer-director JC Chandor, in only his second film (the talky and intriguing Margin Call was his first), demonstrates considerable resourcefulness — not unlike his methodical protagonist –- in this unadorned man-against-nature drama that boasts gritty, documentary-like immediacy and plays off Redford’s weathered, determined face as if that’s to be our only source of insight or information, which turns out to be pretty close to the truth.
How or why “Our Man” landed in this precarious situation is to remain an elusive secret. Is this stubborn stinginess or minimalist purism? You make the call.
The mind may wander a bit, perhaps to Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea or the Tom Hanks film Cast Away or to the recent Life of Pi (sans the tiger), but it doesn’t stop us from marveling at what is shaping up to be an extraordinary, if unapologetically insular, bow-to-stern cinematic achievement.
Redford’s nowhere-to-hide, no-nonsense performance is more thoughtful and workmanlike (the 77-year-old does his own stunts) than expressive or inspired. In truth, there’s a lot more doing than acting here, which robs the film of at least some of its emotional impact, to be sure. But Redford’s star turn is nonetheless technically adroit.
So we’ll navigate 3 stars out of 4 for this nearly silent nautical tale of severe solitude, supreme self-sufficiency, and sought survival at sea.
As mainstream entertainment goes, it’s bravely chancy. But as moviemaking art, All Is Lost holds water.