Redford is not lost to an Oscar nomination this time. It's that good!
All is Lost
Director: J.C. Chandor (Margin Call)
Cast: Robert Redford (The Company You Keep)
Runtime: 106 min
by John DeSando
No need to be stranded in the Indian Ocean in your sailboat because writer/director J.C. Chandor has masterfully provided the experience for you in All is Lost. In fact, you can be an Ancient Mariner retelling your story and never have starved or cursed an albatross. It’s that good, that authentic a feeling, that pared down to the basics of survival.
“Our Man” (read “Everyman”), played with his signature cool by Robert Redford, is a rich, handsome, aging, expert sailor (he is probably a professional something when not sailing), whose back-story is unknown except for a few bits such as his voice over at the beginning lamenting he has not been all he should to his family and does not look at a gift card in a box for a new sextant, which he is reduced to using after almost all is lost in the storm.
The special effects are as fine as you might expect from such a high-end production—shots from depths upward to the boat are lyrically contradictory to the danger he is experiencing topside. The tumult inside the boat feels real as water takes its inevitable toll.
All is Lost serves as appropriate metaphor, among others, for the commercial forces that interfere in one’s life and the end of life fight to survive in the face of inevitable death. The dignity Our Man displays, his resourcefulness, mostly lack of resentment, and his rare moments of anger at himself are how I hope I would react and probably wouldn’t (I’d be a big baby because I don’t favor the idea of leaving this beautiful world).
Redford’s well-known minimalism lends just the right touch of gravity and loneliness to a role such as Hemingway's Old Man or one of Joseph Conrad's brooding narrators. The New York Times’ A.O. Scott reminds us you can hope to gain a Conradian truth from this vicarious adventure, “that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask” (Conrad's "Nigger of the 'Narcissus'," 1897). The other truth is, Redford is so believable as to deserve an Oscar nomination, his finest role on screen in a career for which he has constantly underplayed. He’s still doing it, but this time he has no one else to distract us.
All is Lost leaves me with a small dissatisfaction because I’d like to know what his life has been so I can understand his possible death. Of course, Chandor seems to wish we would generalize the story to all men, and he’s right to demand it. For me, surviving is what I always want to do—this film puts me right there:
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com