'All is Lost'
Director: J.C. Chandor
Stars: Robert Redford, no one else
4 (out of 5) Globes
Survival tales have been popular (at least to make) over the last few years, but none have gone as minimalist as “All is Lost.” “Buried” gives its lone star Ryan Reynolds a cell phone, so he can chat while in a coffin under the earth. “127 Hours” depicted one man's isolation like a Gatorade commercial. “Gravity” is an IMAX 3-D spectacular where astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney do a dance (or rather helplessly float and twist) around space with Alfonso Cuaron’s direction.
“All is Lost” has none of this. All it has is Robert Redford on a boat (and then a blow-up lifeboat), trying not to die a horrible death. The filmmaking is plain, serene, patient. There is very little score. Not only does Redford's character not even have a name, billed in the credits as “Our Man”; he barely speaks, beyond a few aborted SOS calls and one super-expletive he struggles like a madman to shout through a parched throat. The opening has Redford reading, on the soundtrack, a letter, apologizing for some sleight or character flaw. We never find out what he’s specifically addressing. Even “The Old Man and the Sea” had more meat on it.
That, of course, is a huge compliment. However dazzling “Gravity” is, it’s at its best when its stars are going from one hurdle to the next. “All is Lost” is all hurdles. The first time we see Redford’s character, he’s awoken by water pouring through a hole into his cabin. Much-needed electronics are short-circuited in an instant. Our hero goes from one problem to the next: patching up the boat with a temporary salve, drying out his radio then trying it again, etc. It’s a dry film about process, punctuated with beautiful-horrifying moments like a long take where the camera sits next to him as he watches his yacht finally submerge.
Director J.C. Chandor is crafting a unique career watching people calmly dealing with catastrophes. “Margin Call” was made all the more intense by the sobriety witch which its financiers responded to a sudden economic apocalypse. This does the same thing, and even more impressively, with director and star crafting a character both vague and specific: We sense deep, personal problems but never get a clue what they are.
There’s honestly only one major misstep, and it’s really a carp (and a SPOILER): Like “Gravity,” it winds up taking on a quasi-religious bent. “Lost,” unlike "Gravity," has the decency to save it for the very end, but the ambiguity — is he saved or “saved?” — only stresses how Chandor wrote himself a film whose ending could never be satisfying.