Friday, November 8, 2013

In Theaters: ALL IS LOST (2013)

(US - 2013)

Written and directed by J.C. Chandor.  Cast: Robert Redford. (PG-13, 105 mins)

A stellar late-career achievement for 77-year-old Robert Redford, ALL IS LOST contains the most sparse use of dialogue of any major release since THE ARTIST.  Redford is the entire cast in this harrowing saga of a man adrift in a yacht in the Indian Ocean.  The film opens with an unseen Redford narrating a letter written by the character:  "I'm sorry.  I know that means little at this point, but I tried."  Cut to eight days earlier, as Redford is stirred awake by a stray shipping container colliding with the yacht and creating a hole in the hull.  Water pours in, but Redford (the character is billed as "Our Man") calmly and methodically goes to work patching the hole and draining the water from the boat.  Most of his equipment is damaged and he's unable to radio for help.  He's soon faced with inclement weather and a torrential storm, which capsizes the yacht and damages it beyond repair.  He opts for the life raft with little rations or hope of imminent rescue, using his nautical skills to chart when he'll drift into commercial shipping territory and out of the open water.

ALL IS LOST sounds like it would be a dull and dry CAST AWAY retread, but in the hands of writer/director J.C. Chandor (MARGIN CALL), it's fast-paced and exciting.  Every creak and gurgle in the sinking yacht and every splashing wave ratchets up the tension.  Its only real stumble is some typically unconvincing greenscreen CGI during a storm when Redford is trying to steer the yacht.  Of course, it's Redford, in his best role in years, that makes it work as well as it does. We learn very little about "Our Man," other than what we can deduce: he's regretful of past decisions that have hurt loved ones, he's resourceful, and he prefers (or accepts) solitude.  With a career going back over 50 years, Redford's never been a showy actor known for "big" scenes or iconic one-liners (his only Oscar nomination for acting came for 1973's THE STING; he lost to Jack Lemmon in SAVE THE TIGER).  Among his legendary contemporaries who hit their stride in the 1970s, Redford doesn't have a "You talkin' to me?" or "You can't handle the truth!" or "Hoo-aaah!" or "Go ahead, make my day" moment for his career highlight reel.  His acting style has always been sparse and his work in ALL IS LOST is about as internalized as it gets.  Chandor stays focused on the actor throughout, letting Redford's actions, his eyes, and the lines in his aged face tell the story.  Of any living legends, De Niro, Nicholson, Pacino, or Eastwood couldn't have played this part as effectively. I could see Paul Newman pulling it off if it had it been made 10 or 15 years ago, and again, his acting style was similar to Redford's.  But you don't hire those other guys so they can be quiet.  On his Facebook page, filmmaker Rod Lurie, who directed Redford in 2001's THE LAST CASTLE, praised his performance in ALL IS LOST and wrote that "When we made THE LAST CASTLE, Bob sat down with me and we went through the script page by page, and he took a red marker and started crossing off lines and whole sections of his dialogue, saying 'I can sell this without saying it.'"   And other than the brief opening voiceover, two failed attempts at calling for help on the radio and a cry for help at a passing ship that doesn't see him, the only dialogue Redford has is, after several days at sea and reaching his breaking point, an anguished and enraged "FUUUUUUUUUCK!" which may very well be his YouTube-worthy moment of over-the-top emoting.

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