It took most of the year, but the annual critically-lauded film for which I am surprisingly on the outside has arrived. Taking the torch from Beasts of the Southern Wild is All Is Lost, a confoundedly boring experience that again has me convinced I saw a version different from the rich, meaningful film so many others have lauded.
The second feature from writer/director J.C. Chandor (using “writer” in the loosest sense) showcases a man’s struggle to survive alone on the Indian Ocean once his sailboat hits a random shipping container and springs a leak. Played by our beloved Robert Redford, this salty dog’s actions seem the makings of engaging cinema (why else would it have been made?) yet the cast’s solitary count also makes the film vulnerable to minimal dialogue and related dramatic weaknesses. Indeed, the unnamed seaman is not one who talks to himself or inanimate objects a la Tom Hanks in Cast Away, a void that shifts focus to his esoteric and mechanical actions on the boat. Similar to the ways in which the instruction manual passages of Tom Clancy novels prove irresistible to certain readers, so may these rote maritime activities worm their way into the hearts of the nautically-inclined. Those without such interests are forced to keep searching for a hook, and with no sustained point of interest, that search becomes one of immense futility.
Redford does the best he can do with what’s given him, though his legendary presence only adds so much. Perhaps the long wordless stretches and sustained shots of his weathered face are intended to inspire reflections on legitimate great performances from The Sting, All the President’s Men, or Out of Africa. Maybe Chandor has in mind a few of Redford’s directorial efforts, plus his founding of the Sundance Film Festival and his general grand status in the film industry. Whatever they’re meant to invoke, they’re unsuccessful. The exceptions are the film’s rare big moments (e.g. getting thrown under water during one of several storms or having his fish stolen by a shark), but regardless of the stimuli, Redford’s face gives away little, lost in the humdrum of his actions.
The anti-Captain Phillips, All Is Lost lacks many things necessary to command attention, and while this isn’t something you want to say often, it could stand to be more Hollywoodized. As is, there’s insufficient detail to carry the narrative. Knowing why Redford is at sea might propel things a great deal more, as would (Michael Bay help me) an artifact of some sort in his possession or even one measly item of mere personal significance. Instead, there’s a lot of mariner monotony that makes for one long waiting game with few notable variations. Proceed with great caution.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
I just caught up with this and it’s a late favorite of last year. I thought it was way better than the years other survival film Gravity.