Monday, December 23, 2013

Catching up with 2013: All is Lost

J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost is a mesmerizing experience. One of the very best pictures of the year. Much of this, no doubt, is owed to the film’s lead — and only — performance. “Tour de force,” that oft-used cliché when describing an award worthy performance, comes to mind when describing Robert Redford’s performance as Our Man (the fact that he remains nameless and, for the most part, history-less is one of the many things I admired about the movie). And that is an appropriate way to describe Redford since all 105 minutes of the film is all Redford all the time, so the performance better engage the viewer, and it better be something that keeps the viewer always wondering what’s going to happen next. Redford is nothing short of phenomenal here. Redford’s face says it all: the look he gives when he knows he’s in some shit, the devastating look he gives his ship as he watches it sink, and the heartbreaking way he lets go of the tether to his life raft — fully aware that things are about to get even more bleak. There is also moment of realization on that life raft that is so frustrating, so deflating, that Our Man simply cannot hold it in anymore and yells out the most anguished “Fuck!” I’ve heard in quite some time. Is it to God (doubtful since he doesn’t add a “you” to the end of it)? To himself for being so careless? To the life he knows he will not return to? This little moment is just one of many where Redford says so much by doing so little.

Yet, as crucial as the lead performance is to the film’s success, All is Lost would merely be a “good” film and not a great and memorable film were it not for Chandor’s attention to details (there are so many moments where I found myself on the edge of my seat wondering what he was doing and why he was doing it, watching this character think and process and survive) and the film’s tremendous use of sound (in addition to the great storm scenes, there is a moment where Our Man goes back onto his sinking boat to retrieve some items, and the creaking and cracking and deep moans that emanate from the doomed ship are downright terrifying). The ending will no doubt be a point of contention for some (this will be one of those movies that I recommend to people, and they’ll probably wonder what the hell is wrong with me), but like all great works of existentialism, the ending can mean whatever you want it to mean depending on how you view the world — similarly, like all great existential works, it has the ability to make us inventory on our lives and think about the world in which we inhabit a little differently.


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