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Friday, 25 October 2013 00:00

A stunning survival drama plays out in 'All Is Lost'

A stunning survival drama plays out in 'All Is Lost'
Written by Diane Carson
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Minimalist to the extreme, "All Is Lost" proves the adage that less certainly can be more. Under the astute direction of J.C. Chandor, with a mesmerizing performance by Robert Redford, the pared down, unpretentious story is simple. Alone on a 39 foot yacht, the central character finds himself stranded in the Indian Ocean, 1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits.

Known only as Our Man in the 31-page script, this individual's boat hits a shipping container carrying (ironically) sneakers in the middle of what feels like nowhere. Awakened in darkness with a jolt by the impact, his life literally in jeopardy, this man now must rely on his ingenuity and stamina if he'll survive. While symbolic suggestions feel appropriate, the diverse succeeding events have a completely satisfying and totally engrossing specificity, never reaching for existential meaning beyond pure physical endurance. We may introduce that perspective, but it is never argued.

In fact, after an opening, brief voiceover statement by the man, there are about a dozen words spoken in the entire film. As Redford has said, some people don't talk when alone, and he is the only character ever seen or heard. Similarly sparingly used, music complements action only a few times, and then briefly, without being intrusive. The focus remains intense and intelligent--always on this isolated person with everything at stake, pushed to his intellectual and physical limits.

At Telluride where "All Is Lost" premiered, Chandor and Redford talked about the trying experience, difficult especially for Redford when, still athletic at 77, he decided to do every feasible action himself. The results are stunning because the close-ups made possible by Redford's total immersion capture the emotion as no distant camera work could. Redford's face, a map of trials and tribulations, registers every nuance. It's his best and a brilliant performance achieving what Chandor said he wanted, that is, for the audience to be drawn into the experience, an approach Redford applauded.

Redford added that he liked the tone, the turbulence, the wilderness. So do I. I love survival narratives, and I can't get "All Is Lost" out of my mind and heart. It's a powerful film on every level. At a Landmark Theatre.

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