All Is Lost

Directed By: J.C. Chandor

Starring: Robert Redford

In the 2012 awards season, veteran directors stepped up to the plate.  We saw the likes of Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow, and Ang Lee rising to the occasion and putting out great movies.  To some extent, the opposite is happening this year.  For instance, first-time director Ryan Coogler has got plenty of Oscar buzz for his poignant drama Fruitvale Station.  The same can be said for director Steve McQueen, who is just beginning to dominate the awards scene with his third feature film 12 Years a Slave.  This weekend, Margin Call director J.C. Chandor enters the fray with his second feature film All Is Lost, a powerful tale of one man's fight to survive against nearly insurmountable odds.  The next generation is clearly stepping up.

Somewhere off the coast of Sumatra on the Virginia Jean, an unnamed man (Robert Redford) awakens to find water flooding into his boat.  During his slumber, his ship collided with the sharp end of a shipping container full of shoes.  The incident left a massive hole in the side of his boat into which water is just flowing unabated.  A resourceful sailor, our man hooks a sea anchor to the container to give him enough space to steer away from the container and repair this hole.  Though his survival tactics are quite impressive, the damage is already done.  The engine has been flooded, and our man has no way of communicating with the world for help.  Over the next eight days, this man fights for his life against the world's most dangerous serial killer, Mother Nature.

I did not expect to love All Is Lost.  After all, I very much prefer survival thrillers with some dialogue (i.e. Gravity).  With perhaps less than 50 words spoken in the movie, All Is Lost doesn't quite fit that bill.  As I watched this gripping movie, I realized that it doesn't need words.  All by himself, the great Robert Redford delivers a prolific, elemental performance as this courageous guy doing whatever he can to survive.  He commands the screen effortlessly and needs no supporting cast members whatsoever.  J.C. Chandor gives Redford an even better partner, the ocean.  In this man's struggle to survive, the waters can be his best friend or his worst enemy.

What I really love about Redford's performance is the progression of his character throughout the film.  Though verbal communication is sparse throughout All Is Lost, Redford masterfully communicates this incredible emotional journey through his body language and facial expressions.  There's so much that he shows us without saying a word — his hopelessly desperate desire to live, his profound anger with the world for the hand he's been dealt, and his immense yet realistic fear that death may be imminent.  Redford cycles through these emotions throughout the film, and they progressively get worse and worse as the harsh reality of it all sets in.  To potently wrap all of this up in body language and an occasional sporadic expletive is just bloody brilliant.  The 77-year old screen legend is once again at his absolute best here.  What's even more impressive is that the elder actor gets very physical in the film and does many of his stunts himself.

As much as Redford is the center of attention in All Is Lost, so is director J.C. Chandor.  In his second feature, he's really crafted a tense, unsettling thriller about how alone one truly is out in that big body of water.  It's just as terrifying as Alfonso Cuarón's vision of space.  Chandor leaves Redford at the whims of Mother Nature and her turbulent waters.  You can see it in his long, panoramic shots of Redford surrounded by nothing but the ocean blue.  You can hear it as storms rage and the waves roar around Redford and the Virginia Jean.  You can feel it in this tragically beautiful tone Chandor sets with a subtly melancholic score that sweeps us away at just the right moments.  All in all, Chandor deftly crafts a very terrifying film around Redford's elemental performance to emphasize how violent Mother Nature can really be.  It's downright unnerving.

All Is Lost is really this year's indie counterpart to Gravity.  It's a potent survival thriller that makes you think twice about going out on the water.  I certainly won't be doing any sailing on my own anytime in the near future.  Despite being a skilled navigator (unlike myself), Redford's character went to hell and back on those deadly waters.  Adding to the string of younger directors with knockout films this year, J.C. Chandor has proven that Margin Call was no fluke and that he's here to stay.  All Is Lost gets a sober rating.  Don't underestimate this outstanding piece of cinema as I mistakenly did.