News Column

Review: 'All is Lost'

November 8, 2013


Nov. 08--If you think a movie with no dialogue has little or nothing to say, you haven't seen "All is Lost." If you thought Robert Redford had delivered his last great performance years ago, you should see this picture, in which he is the only actor.

If you want to see one of 2013's finest films -- original, moving and thoughtful in surprising ways -- you should not miss "All is Lost."

Like many a moviegoer will, I went into the film unsure what to expect because of the structure. This is not a silent film; rather, this is a man alone with his thoughts on a vast body of water, struggling to survive. The conflict is man vs. nature, and he is not the talk-to-himself type.

Redford is simply "Our man," as it states in the credits. We know nothing about him other than an opening monologue in which he is apologetic, and the fact that he awakens inside his 39-foot yacht to a collision with a stray steel shipping container that leaves his boat's hull with a gaping hole and water flooding in.

Redford is simply brilliant, showing steely resolve while being put through the emotional and physical wringer as hunger, sharks and violent storms threaten.

Working for writer-director J.C. Chandor (this is his second picture after 2011's exceptional financial-crisis drama "Margin Call"), Redford is absent of the political agenda that he's brought to his films in recent years as a detriment, and he looks challenged -- and up to it -- for the first time in years.

Without the use of that buttery-smooth voice, the actor must express every hope, concern and ounce of conviction through that famous face, now perfectly weathered for such a stripped-down performance in a survival film.

For those who presume they will have "I couldn't get past it being Robert Redford on the screen" movie-viewing issues, that shouldn't be a problem here. It wasn't for me, largely because I didn't feel like there was any time to think about something so trifling.

I was too concerned for "Our man's" safety as the 76-year-old actor climbed the massive mast of the sailboat to make a repair. I was too busy thinking along with the character: What's the next item on the checklist? What amount of food remains to be rationed? What's the possibility of drying out the radio equipment? How are we going to get out of this?

I felt a sense of empathy for Redford's character like I haven't experienced in a film this year, putting myself in his situation and becoming a kindred spirit in his cause.

With Redford not interacting with anyone else, I felt as an audience member that we were all in this together -- and we are in this life, aren't we? -- and I had to respect the man's resourcefulness.

Movies like "Life of Pi" last year and the current hit "Gravity" have prepared us for a movie like "All is Lost," which features Redford's voice in the opening minute and then only to deliver an exasperated profanity later, which we forgive him of because he has been such a panic-free traveler with us, and because we feel the same way by that point.

The tension that Chandor creates is palpable. The spareness of his focus and the film score heighten our awareness. We are left open-eyed to the reality that all may be lost -- supplies, hope, a man's life -- as he uses his wits and a sextant with nautical maps in an attempt to reach shipping lanes where a passing vessel might catch sight of his fading situation.

Rather than experimental, the film feels like a classic survival story. It tinkers with the old-man-and-the-sea narrative and becomes one of the great films about man facing his mortality, concluding with a moment that will have viewers talking, ruminating and marveling.

"All is Lost" is superior craftsmanship on the part of the filmmaker and his star, making a late-in-life "coming of age" story that transitions into a man's twilight and burns bright.

Michael Smith 918-581-8479


Cast: Robert Redford

Theaters: Circle Cinema, AMC Southroads 20

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (brief strong language)

Quality: 4 stars (on a scale of zero to four stars)


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