Judge Patrick Naugle is seasick.
Batten down the hatches.
Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Solider) plays a nameless man on a small boat who awakens one morning to find his vessel has been punctured by a large shipping crate floating in the middle of the ocean. The man realizes his situation is dire and attempts to patch his boat with glue and compound. Unfortunately, his efforts are in vein, forcing the man to move from the safety of his sinking boat to a smaller inflatable raft. With his radio fried from the seawater and supplies dwindling, his only hope of survival lies within one person—himself.
For all intents and purposes, All is Lost might as well have come from the silent age of filmmaking. It's a visceral experience, filled with tension and purpose, grinding onward like a one-man war machine. Written and directed by Margin Call's J.C. Chandor and featuring a single actor in Robert Redford, the film pulls us into a situation in which there are no easy answers. Minimal dialogue (one curse word perfectly positioned for maximum effect), a single character, and a minimalist story grips us and doesn't let go.
All is Lost is a rare movie that's hard to critique. There isn't much of a story to discuss and, since there's hardly any dialogue, that's a moot point as well. What we get is less a of story and more a chronicle of survival. This is a man on a sinking ship who must make quick decisions before his fate is sealed. At times, the film feels like one of those old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books; Redford's character must choose to either patch up the hull or call for help; stay on the boat or leave the boat. Each choice moves him to a new level of danger or safety, though there aren't any large fireball explosions or horrible shark attacks. All is Lost is less concerned with standard Hollywood action than it is focusing on the choices the character makes and where it ultimately ends up taking him.
Robert Redford is the last of a dying breed. Although younger than many of his classical Hollywood contemporaries (beginning his career on television in 1960), Redford is an old school veteran who has honed his craft to the point where less is more. The nameless character he plays in All is Lost is riveting in what he doesn't say; every wrinkle, scowl, and darting look emanating from Redford's face is able to convey far more than words ever could. In one of the biggest snubs of 2014, Redford was overlooked for Oscar consideration in this portrayal of a man at desperate odds with the sea. In fact, save for a single Sound Editing nomination (really?), All is Lost was completely ignored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is a shame considering it's heads and shoulders above other nominees like American Hustle.
All is Lost is great filmmaking, not the least of which because it's able to tell its story without all the standard clichés most screenplays use. We know almost nothing about the protagonist before the first frame starts and learn little about him by the time the credits roll. Then again, there's really no need, because the action isn't about what happened in the past, but what's happening in the moment. The film's story is told only in decisions and contemplations. There is no sociopolitical subtext or message contained within. This is purely about a man trying to survive the worst that the sea has to offer. In that context, this is a exceptional and lean survival tale that keeps us guessing until its final moments.
All is Lost (Blu-ray) is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. Lionsgate offers up a very fine looking transfer that sports solid colors (a lot of blues) and dark black levels. Although there is a bit of film grain present, it's natural looking and doesn't hinder the picture. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is a truly sonic experience that immerses us in the sounds of the sea. Waves crash all around, while in quieter moments Alex Ebert's score takes over.
Bonus features include a commentary from writer/director J.C. Chandor and producers Nate Dodson and Anna Gerb; a few short EPK featurettes that focus on the making of All is Lost ("The Filmmaker," "The Actor," "The Sound of All is Lost," "Big Film, Small Film," "Preparing for the Storm"), and a digital copy of the film.
J.C. Chandor has fashioned a small epic that squarely focuses on how a person reacts to an immediate life and death crisis. Robert Redford gives a moving and insightful performance that should have been honored with many industry accolades. But in that respect, all truly is lost.
One of the best films of 2013, receiving one of my highest recommendations.
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