(Photo : Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)
This past weekend, Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" hit cinemas. At its core, the film is notable for the fact that it centers on one character battling to survive in space alone. The concept of survival on one's own is getting a significantly different treatment in another October release - J.C. Chandor's "All is Lost" starring Robert Redford.
The film is one of the most difficult to review for this writer as it is impossible to be indifferent toward the work, but it is equally difficult to completely embrace it.
As the film opens up, the viewer is shown a mysterious floating object in the middle of the sea that is counterbalanced with a cryptic monologue from Redford's character. The monologue hints at a character apologizing to an unknown reader and also gives off subtle indications of why he is at sea in the first place. Moments later, the sound of the water rushes at the viewer and the film gets going. Throughout its 107 minute running time, Redford's character will be thrust from one obstacle to the next as he battles to survive in the expansive and empty ocean. This is the epitome of "Murphy's Law" (everything that could go wrong will go wrong) and the character is constantly faced with storms, sharks, lack of food supplies, broken equipment, etc. With the exception of a few calls for help and one powerful moment punctuated by an expletive, Redford's performance is speechless and internal.
If this film works in any way, it is because its leading man manages to create an enduring portrayal of a struggling man that continues to strive for survival despite all the odds being stacked against him. One of the finest moments in the film is a close-up shot of Redford staring at his sinking boat one last time. The camera stays on his visage for a few moments and the viewer is able to see the growing despair on Redford's face. The aforementioned moment that features a well-placed expletive is an emotional build-up of frustration. The character has just come to a terrible realization and the emotional impulse starts moving him toward an unexpected explosion; however, the ultimate effect is unexpected and admittedly powerful.
The film ends in a manner many would expect, but Chandor manages to create a sense of ambiguity regarding the character's fate that can only be determined by the audience's perspective. The final image is reminiscent of a universally iconic fresco and the character is really a vessel for the viewer with the journey representing the difficulties of life; an apt metaphor would be Thomas Cole's famous quartet of paintings known as "The Voyage of Life." Early on in the film, Redford's character shows himself to be a capable sailor with the physical strength that enables him to deal with the troubles of the ocean. However by the end of the work, he is weak and weary; his body thrown about with facility. A few chilling moments showcase the character being ignored by a few ships; it comes late in the film and seems to express the indifference other people feel toward the elderly and dying. As those more potent ships sail eagerly toward their destination they ignore those headed toward their doom with little regard for their outcome.
Chandor and Redford offer no clues about who this man is and the shooting style is almost documentary in its execution. The camera follows Redford and the action about almost attempting to be a silent observer. There are a few well-framed shots below the ocean and from above in the sky that break this illusion, but there is rarely any pretense to fill this movie up with artful imagery.
The above discussion would certainly lead to the conclusion that this is an unabashedly positive review, but the actual discussion the film prompts may be better than the movie itself. The task for audience is not an easy one as Chandor's movie moves at a tepid pace that falls into tedium at numerous moments. While the storm sequences are powerful in their imagery, they feel a bit repetitive, especially in their proximity to one another. It is very easy for the viewer to find him or herself uninterested (and bored) at certain parts of the film as Chandor does little to connect the audience with the character; he seems to hope that the larger philosophical concept will resonate.
"All is Lost" is extraordinary in its bold vision and execution and Redford delivers one of the finest performances of the year. This film, while universal in its scope, is unlikely to satisfy the masses hoping for instant gratification. Those willing to stick with the film's uneventful moments will surely find themselves aptly rewarded in the solid final act.