All is Lost is out in Berlin cinemas on January 9.
It’s award season — but what tends to be described as a race could move at a more sedate pace this year as late septuagenarians find themselves heading the field.
One of these is Robert Redford who plays “Our Man” in J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost: a sailor whose minutely planned trip on the Indian Ocean is temporarily scuppered by a collision with a randomly floating container full of mass-produced shoes. Triumphing over globalized transportation with rugged individuality, Our Man repairs and proceeds. Then a storm hits.
But plot, such as it is on 31 pages of shooting script featuring maybe two, three lines of monologue and an ambiguous ending, is not the point. What’s at stake here is existence pared down to one man absolutely alone with himself, Gravity-style, only more realistic and thus arguably more frightening.
Our Man (who remains nameless) must summon all his survival instincts to stay alive from day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute, facing mortality as he ponders the practicalities of launching emergency flares. Now in his late seventies, Redford’s career has not featured performances involving facial dexterity. That works to his advantage here as he takes the well-worn pillar of rugged stoicism to its natural conclusion, finally conflating an ideal of American manhood with its in extremis face.
The process is supported by imaginative cinematography from Frank G. DeMarco whose multi-angled camera creates a cast of stand-in protagonists (sea, skies, storms) and moves from early calm through the wildly expressive to stagnant shots of resigned, recumbent inertia.
Generic in its universality, individual in its situational intensity and only very occasionally and very mildly sentimental, All is Lost is a case study of the human condition. Happy ending optional.
All is Lost | Directed by J.C. Chandor (USA 2013) with Robert Redford. Starts January 9
Originally published in issue #123, January 2014.