Magazine article Variety

Lost Sails Deep into the Human Condition

Magazine article Variety

Lost Sails Deep into the Human Condition

Article excerpt


Lost Sails Deep Into the Human Condition

All Is Lost

Director: J.C. Chandor

Starring: Robert Redford

As close to pure existential cinema as American filmmaking is likely to get these days, All Is Lost finds writer-director J.C. Chandor decisively avoiding the sophomore slump with a picture that could scarcely be more different from his 2011 debut, Margin Call. An impressively spare, nearly dialogue-free stranded-atsea drama that strips characterization down to basic survival instinct, this emotionally resonant oneman showcase for Robert Redford faces a fair number of marketing challenges, given its audacious minimalism and proximity to a much splashier castaway adventure, Life of Pi. Still, critical support and high-concept talking points could help Lost find its legs as an upscale specialty release, due out Oct. 25 through Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.

All Is Lost places a solitary figure at the center of a roughly 30-page script that, aside from a quietly mournful opening monologue, contains perhaps three or four lines of dialogue. With no background or exposition, viewer identification is thus reduced to the simplest, most primal level of wondering whether Redford's character will survive, and it's a measure of how carefully the film avoids the usual dramatic expedients and manipulations that the answer to that question is never entirely obvious.

Although we never learn the name of this middle-aged mariner (he's identified simply as "Our Man" in the credits), we do learn the name of his boat, a 39-foot yacht called the Virginia Jean. For reasons that go unexplained, he's been on a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean for quite some time; it's evidently due to his sailing acumen that he reacts with more irritation than panic when he awakens one morning to find that a random shipping container has collided with his boat, ripping a gash in its hull.

The dread and anxiety are slow to build. Although he manages to temporarily repair the hull, the boat's navigational functions have been destroyed, leaving the Virginia Jean to sail helplessly into the path of a gathering storm. Our Man barely manages to keep himself afloat as he and the boat are repeatedly tossed and turned by the sea, lashed by pounding wind and rain.

Yet such is the character's resourcefulness - stockpiling rations, emptying the hold of water, and at one point climbing the 65-foot mast to secure the sails - that he manages to hold out as long as possible before the irreparable craft capsizes, at about the one-hour mark, leaving him to spend the rest of this harrowing journey in a life raft.

From there, the picture morphs from an unhurried, steadily involving portrait of emergency damage control into an intensely engrossing high-stakes drama, something it achieves without introducing farfetched obstacles or having Our Man suddenly start conversing with a volleyball. Apart from the momentary threat of attack when the raft enters shark-infested waters, the film finds drama in the smallest of details: the ingenious method of obtaining fresh water that the protagonist discovers, or the sunburn that creeps ever more visibly across his face as the days progress. Perhaps the only artificial elements here are the prominent score by Alex Ebert, which nonetheless crucially serves the material with its enveloping, never overpowering swells of emotion, and a final scene that verges on overcalculation, although Chandor finds the perfect gesture with which to bring his story to a deeply moving close. …

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