All Is Lost (2013)

Director:  J.C. Chandor
Cast:  Robert Redford
Plot:  After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.

Genre:  Adventure / Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Sound Editing.  
Runtime:  106min
Rating:  PG13 for brief strong language.

J.C. Chandor could not have chosen a more different project as a follow-up to his debut feature, Margin Call (2011).  This also shows his versatility.  His filmmaking ability is never in doubt;  in fact, All Is Lost is one of the more expertly-shot pictures of 2013. 

It is about a man and his boat, and they are lost.  There are films similar to this, presented in different ways like Life of Pi (2012) and Kon-Tiki (2012).  And because there are only so many ways to shoot an alone-at-sea story, and most of these ways have been exhausted by filmmakers from way before, there is the fear that All Is Lost will succumb to conventions. 

Yet, Chandor’s eye for detail and his overall vision for the picture help the picture to avoid the usual trappings associated with the genre.

Starring an aged but still terrific Robert Redford as Our Man, All Is Lost has nearly no dialogue and the entire film is set in cold waters.  We never see land, only the sky and sea.  It is possible to get seasick watching this movie, even if shaky camerawork has been kept to a minimum. 

But most of the time, Redford's charismatic screen presence makes us forget the vast ocean and horrifying storms.  This is a man who has weathered a lot of pain and suffering; his will to survive is our shining light, an affirmation of the human spirit. 

It is a physically challenging role, but it's a first-rate performance by the veteran, who has been criminally ignored in the overcrowded Best Actor Oscar pool this year.

Chandor, who also wrote the picture, tries his best to tell a story of perseverance, but it is a good fifteen to twenty minutes too lengthy.  Nevertheless, there are two great moments in the film that function as emotional highs and parallels Our Man's plight. 

Without giving away anything substantial, the two unrelated scenes involve a sinking and a fire respectively.  Chandor makes use of these moments shrewdly, and coupled with Alex Ebert's Golden Globe-winning atmospheric score, the film is largely effective in what it has set out to do, even if it drags along at its weakest parts where narrative momentum is all but existent.

Verdict:  Expertly-shot but a tad too lengthy, this one-man-lost-in-the-ocean survivor tale just manages to avoid the conventional trappings associated with the genre.


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