November 12, 2013

All is Lost

J.C. Chandor, 2013

A man (Robert Redford) is alone at sea, is startled when a shipping container collides with his yacht. He is quick to mend the situation, but it's the beginning of a series of events that tests his ability to survive at sea.

It's sure to solicit comparisons to similarly-themed survival at sea films like Open Water or Cast-Away. But it has so much more heart and substance than the former and less outrageous and hefty than the latter. You could say it's simply a story about a man and his boat. A man looking for some solitude, some peace, perhaps at a refectory period in his life. And some things just get in the way. Some things like, say, a forgotten Chinese shipping container filled with knock-off sneakers. And other things, like Mother Nature displaying her fury on the sea, turning a beautiful day into a grayish hell. Perhaps it's a lesson in life, that you can't run away from your personal conflicts, because conflict can find you anywhere in the world. How you deal with them when they arise, is possibly the true test of character.

Redford, cast as "Our Man", brings his veteran acting chops to the table as a veteran yachtsman. And he does a damn good job of doing it. There's a lot of things you don't know about the man, and you're left to put a lot of the pieces together. He's used to being at sea. That's quite clear. He appears to take comfort in being alone. Why he's alone is not clearly explained. You hear his narrative early on, and you see his wedding band on his finger so you know he has a family somewhere. He's a man who likes a cocktail (or two), and perhaps that's why he's alone at sea in the first place, especially given the apologetic tone set early on. At first when the metal shipping container pierces the side of the boat, he doesn't panic. He quickly improvises, clearly putting a certain skill-set into action and improvising. Even when the storm comes, he remains collected. But he is an effective hero, because although he doesn't tell you much, you are right there with him on that boat rooting for him.

The minimalism is what makes this film so great. No dialogue, one cast member. That puts a lot of pressure on Redford, but he handles it remarkably. It seems like Chandor must have gone through 100 cameras making this film. As far as the sound goes, the score isn't so pronounced nor does it need to be. Sometimes you just hear the sound of the fierce wind blowing. But when he's in the brunt of the unforgiving storm, there is an ambient resonance that is so perfectly haunting it gives that one particular scene so much more power. That scene, without revealing what happens, is the most memorable of the film. That synergy could be the best attribute of the film, other than Redford's acting. The creaking as the boat rocks back and forth. It becomes such an integral part of the film. You sit in the cabin with him, wondering what could be coming next. The schools of fish gather below the boat, and it may as well be a clock ticking. They grow in number and size. The impending doom. A story of a man's misfortune. A reminder that water can be the basis of one's survival, or one's peril. A tale of time, or the proper use of it. Especially when every minute counts. A test of one's personal fortitude. The possibility of breaking a man.

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