Monday, October 28

REVIEW: All Is Lost

Directed by J. C. Chandor
2013 Drama
1 hour 46 minutes
From Lionsgate

Robert Redford

I saw this tale of survival at sea with my partner and two good friends.  We had already seen 12 Years a Slave earlier in the same cineplex, because we wanted to have a movie marathon day.  As we were walking out of All Is Lost, before I had a chance to get their take on the movie, I wondered how many stars I would give it for this posting.  Very quickly I decided it was getting four stars.  I already knew I would give Slave the same, so this was indeed a grand day at the cinema... not one but two 4-star films in one outing! 

I asked anyone who wanted to answer what he thought of the movie and I couldn't have been more surprised to watch one friend's face contort in such a manner that I thought he might be wishing he hadn't joined us.  The other friend sort of seemed to be nodding in agreement.  While I was waiting for the first one to explain that face I quickly took assessment of these two buddies and I recalled something I've long known.  They both know how to do anything, everything.  Handy men supremo.  And then I suspected they had found fault with the film in the technical arena.

And boy oh boy, if this friend wasn't champing at the bit to take aim.  He started off with the left eyebrow raised over Redford not donning a life vest when the ship was in high seas and in imminent danger of sinking. How blankety-blank ridiculous is that? 

The film starts with Redford waking when his sailboat hits something.  Going on deck he discovers a huge floating cargo container has rammed the side of the craft, causing a gaping hole and the water is pouring in.  When Redford closed it by using a sheet of fiberglass and resin adhesive, the sailboat could then go on its merry way for some time.  My friend would have none of it and said he had then written the film off as not serious

A spirited discourse after seeing a film is an art form to me.  I especially become alive when someone disagrees with me or is passionate about his own point of view.  It also helps if all this is taking place with food and wine nearby and that was the case shortly after we arrived at my buddy's home.  I offered that I thought I would give it four stars because it had a wonderful Redford performance, which I wanted to discuss in detail, it was beautifully photographed, it was a survival tale at its most obvious and I loved all of that.

I also said that the movie creeped me out in the way that it pushed some buttons than usually don't get pushed.  They included issues on dying in general and drowning specifically, simply being at sea, (hey, I've really never been quite the same since Jaws but let's not have this get around because I have my manly reputation to protect), dealing with a crisis and how would I measure up and on and on. 

I at least have the good sense to know that there would, in reality, be no chance that I would be in the situation of being at sea alone because I would be ill-prepared to get the boat away from the dock, much less survive a disaster in the middle of the ocean.  I'd be sucking bubbles on the earlier rather than later side and I know I'd be a great side of beef for some hungry, ill-tempered huge fish.  All this comes up for me, you see, when I view a film like this.  It excites me somehow, puts my blood into overdrive.

So I was trying to point out the things I liked and that, I felt, warranted my 4-star rating.  Then my friend outlined how this thing was stupid, that was wrong, this was dumb, that was not proper, this or that gadget would not have worked when wet... too many things for me even now to cope with and besides, to go into detail on his complaints would have to reveal large chunks of the story that would not be appropriate.

I still attempted to mount some sort of defense to my friend.  I felt I needed to champion the movie and to justify my 4-star rating but I admitted I was weakening.  I knew that when it boils down to it, I would be among the first to say that a serious film must have accuracy to, in fact, be considered serious.  As a rule, the more unbelievable a storyline is the less chance I am going to like it.  And I had to admit this was the point my friend was making.

So what's the problem here?  Well, while I absolutely agree with my friend's premise, the fact remained that I was not, by and large, aware of these technical shortcomings or fabrications.  They were in areas in which I have no expertise.  What do I know about radio communication, condensation on instruments or much of anything else my friend was saying?  But then there is the issue of how I feel about that rating when my friend had pointed out what he had and was backed up my the other friend?

Perhaps, I mused, I should drop my rating to two stars, but dammit, I just really liked this movie.  For one thing, it had some things about it that are seldom seen and rarely pulled off as well as here.  Let's start with the fact that Redford is the only person in it.  No kidding.  Secondly, he can't have said more than a few dozen words.  I admit that I wondered if a person in full survival mode wouldn't have noisily groaned or uttered some profanities more than once about the hopelessness of it all.  But for the most part, Redford's character made not a sound.  We are shown all the strategies he develops in relationship to all the curves that are thrown at him.  The actor may make few sounds but he acts with every part of his face and body.

There were scenes of large ships suddenly appearing, sharks swimming underneath and huddling in a lifeboat in a raging storm that certainly made you put down your popcorn and pay attention.  Personally I would imagine Redford did most of his own physical work in the film.  I can't imagine there was anything that threatened his safety as a high-priced, insured star, but on the other hand, at age 77, he was certainly asked to do a lot, much moving around in small quarters, in and out of water, getting bounced around.

This actor loves scripts like this one.  This film could have been Jeremiah Johnson on the High Seas or any number of roles he's undertaken.  Ah, the struggle for survival.  A tough customer who does things his way in spite of all obstacles.  He is really the perfect actor for this type of role because of the very nature of his famed independence and requirement for control.  Both of them are tested severely in All Is Lost and it's a breath of fresh air to watch this man, whom most of us of a certain age feel we know so well, be put through his paces.

His often-discussed lack of vanity is apparent here as well.  We all know what skiing and the Utah sun has done to that once beautiful face.  He's never seemed to care.  He was never much concerned  about being a pretty boy... outdoorsman suits him better.  I admire how he allowed himself to be photographed playing this crusty, aging character.

I'd love to have one of those feisty conversations about the ending but it would just ruin the experience for you should you endeavor to see the movie. 

Perhaps my friend is utterly correct in his criticism of the believability factor.  And while that lack of believability usually bothers me a great deal, it's difficult to get all bummed out over things I don't much understand.  I just saw the drama that unfolded and the excitement it generated and I watched a great actor work his magic.  It was still enough for three stars. 

If Robert Redford isn't one of those men nominated for Oscars, something is seriously wrong.

If you see it, I'd love hearing your take.

Coming in November

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