Nick Nunziata: To many in Hollywood Robert Redford has been lost at sea for some time. A few of his recent films disappeared into the ether and the negative fallout from several books and articles showcasing his behind the scenes persona turned the onetime golden boy into a much less savory character. His recent The Company You Keep is a fantastic step back into relevance but All is Lost is truly an engine built towards reminding the world that Robert Redford still has more to prove. J.C. Chandor’s excellent Margin Call harkened the arrival of a powerful voice in sober adult storytelling and in his sophomore feature he delivers a very solid bit of man against nature narrative.
Renn Brown: This is about as one-man show as it comes, with a story that makes Cast Away or even this year’s narrowly-focused Gravity look like wordy ensemble blowouts. Redford, his boat, and nature are pretty much the sum total of this film’s parts, resulting in a nearly wordless story about the extraordinarily acute details of survival that slowly blend into a tale of perseverance, survival, and spirituality. A letter read aloud begins the film and effectively ends any specific details we learn of “Our Man,” as he is listed. The vaguest allusions to family and mistakes are all the story provides, instead obligating us to extract the character of Redford’s character from the minute details of his reaction to a hole in his boat and increasingly hostile weather. Like so many films in this genre, the more it plods along the more the events in question can be read as a allegorical spiritual journey. All Is Lost take its time getting there though, with a maddeningly specific and borderline tedious focus on knots and boxes and flaps and straps and straining and tools and reading and struggling and on and on. This rhythm is partly what makes the film so remarkable and unique, but it’s tough to characterize it as anything other than exhausting, far and beyond the meta-textual value of that kind of experience.
Nick Nunziata: What’s fascinating is in seeing an actor we’ve seen dozens of times in dozens of performances relying on his charm and crisply written dialogue stripping it all away. There is no substitute for experience and it shows in the steely confidence in the actor and in the river of lines in his face. It’s the kind of performance that can get too internal. In a lesser filmmaker the story could have devolved into a series of mishaps and dangerous situations that take too many jabs at an audience’s goodwill. The balance is strong here and the dangerous moments are offset by meticulous tasks that showcase the life of a man at sea. When the movie is at its best is when the deeply complication relationship of a man and his vessel is front and center.
Renn Brown: While reviewing Captain Phillips I brought up a streak of trauma running through the 2013 cinema, and in no film is that more pointedly present than All Is List. The story is so simple and internal –the weather and other trials for Our Man entering by the whims of an unseen force– that make it an almost biblical allegory for dealing with Whatever. Fill in “guilt” or “trauma” or “aging” at your leisure- it’s a film that invites interpretation of Redford’s character’s successive attempts to repair, communicate, navigate, and survive on the cold, unending sea. Note that it’s all kicked off by a single floating shipping container that busts the hole in the side of Our Man’s boat. We see that the container is filled with shoes- that most basic device we invented to insulate ourselves from the pains of wandering. What little we know about Redford’s character suggests he is nothing if not some kind of guilty wanderer.
Perhaps that all risks getting a little ass-sniffingly caught up in breaking things down, but the poetics of the film are much more interesting to me than the mechanics which, again, edge on tiring.
Nick Nunziata: It’s a simple film and timeless in its very laser focused narrative experience. In a day and age where so few theatrical efforts are able to deliver something of this kind it’s hard not to want more. To The White Sea being a good example of a yet-unfilmed story with such a barebones and internal mission. It’s hard to make a movie like this and it’s harder to make it compelling. All is Lost is a solemn piece of work and a good metaphor for Redford’s career’s autumn. With a little luck it’ll be a film that serves as a conduit for more like it.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Renn Brown: Chandor walks a very fine line between poetically spare and plodding with All Is Lost. Clearly he’s not interested in the thriller aspect of the survival story, since he opens the film with a sort of “he’ll at least be alive this far” checkpoint. It’s the details of dealing with crisis that interest Chandor, and with Redford he’s found a storied face in which to observe them. Foot-tapping moments aside, the broad spiritual strokes and quiet grace of the story are generally compelling, It’s a minor film, but one with an old soul and timeless spirit.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars