Saturday, November 9, 2013

All Is Lost

ALL IS LOST              B+                  
USA  (106 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  J.C. Chandor           Official site

Thirteenth of July, 4:15 PM, I’m sorry.  I know that means little at this point, but I am.  I tried.  I think you would all agree that I tried.  To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right.  But I wasn't.  All is lost here—except soul and body, or what’s left of them, and a half-day’s rations.  I’m sorry.
—Our Man (Robert Redford)

Of interest, director J.C. Chandor is the only one of a throng of Sundance participants since 1978 to ever ask the festival founder, Robert Redford (age 77), if he’d ever star in a Sundance film, which he gladly agrees to do here.  And that choice makes all the difference, as you don’t see anybody else in the entire movie, an old man and the sea adventure with just Redford (listed in the credits as Our Man), the boat, and the sea.  There’s a brief opening diary entry that the old man recites, but other than a single word outpouring of frustration, which points the way to the inevitable, there is no dialogue either.  The script is only 31-pages long, and Redford was impressed with the detail of specifics.  Essentially a one-man survival tale, the film interestingly provides no backstory whatsoever, offering no reference to who he’s speaking to in the opening narration, who he is, what skills he has as a sailor, or why he’s out there alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean in the first place on a 39-foot yacht called the Virginia Jean, some 1700 miles from the nearest land.  In the darkness, he wakes to discover water leaking into his sleeping quarters, only to find a gaping hole in the ship’s hull caused by ramming into the side of a floating shipping container that apparently fell overboard.  The inside flood of water into the cabin destroys the electronic equipment used to navigate the ship as well as pump the water from the boat.  Displaying undue calm, he’s able to detach the yacht by cleverly hoisting his anchor and placing it on the other side of the container, and begin the meticulous process of repairing his ship. 

This opening round of assaults is just the beginning, as he quickly patches the hole with homemade glue and pumps out the water by hand until tiring from exhaustion.  As he sets his sights on the horizon, another storm is approaching.  After a few brief minutes, he’s lost his radio signal, so there’s no way to send an S.O.S.  While he appears alert and clear-headed, he makes the best decisions he can, under the circumstances, though the next round actually overturns his vessel, breaking the mast, where the side is leaking again.  Thrown about the cabin like a rag doll, he’s knocked unconscious by the severity of the ship’s sudden movements, awaking to water already as high as his bed.  Redford is seen constantly in motion, never sitting still, going through a series of deliberate procedures in an attempt to stabilize the boat as best he can, but the groans of the ship still at the mercy of the undulating waves suggest there is little time left.  He prepares a life raft and a survival kit, briefly taking what he can carry from the waterlogged cabin, and after surviving through the night, watches his vessel slowly sink into the sea.  Floating in the life raft, he studies what he has left, which includes a sextant and a map, where he calculates his position and discovers he’s nearing a shipping lane, which is his best chance for flagging down a passing ship.  But when he taps into his emergency water reserve, one of the plugs accidentally opened, leaving nothing but seawater to drink.  He devises a plan to place a cellophane sheet across a cut out container, collecting moisture through condensation, but the amount of water collected is far too little. 

The director doesn’t utilize any experimental or avant-garde aesthetics, and sticks to old-fashioned cinema, allowing the camera to tell the story, where it’s not exactly a silent film, as sound permeates throughout, giving the viewer a feel for atmospheric conditions, as it only grows quiet during the calm.  The film is largely a showcase for his ingenuity, as he has managed to keep himself alive under the harshest conditions, keeping his wits about him, never panicking, maintaining his composure.  During the quiet moments, Redford studies an old book, Celestial Navigation for Yachtsmen, helping him use the sextant, noting he is venturing into the shipping lanes, keeping his eyes peeled for help.  When he finally spots a ship, how ironic that it turns out to be the cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama, perhaps the exact same vessel used in Captain Phillips (2013), as it looks identical.  He signals them with emergency flares, and amazingly they pass close by, but they keep on going, leaving him in abject despair.  Another vessel awakes him in the night, where he again lights flares, but to no avail, where the tone of the film shifts from continually doing something about it, to there’s nothing left to do.  Redford is suffering from thirst, hunger, and exposure, and when he finally stops moving around, sitting alone and dejected, we see his fate etched upon his face.  It’s in these final solitary moments that Redford is most impressive, where he’s worth his weight in gold, as his entire life feels like a weight upon his shoulders, becoming a hushed poem of unending anguish, where the solemn orchestral music by Alex Ebert very much resembles Arvo Pärt’s remarkable Spiegel im Spiegel in Gus van Sant’s equally tragic GERRY (2002), Intro - Gerry - Gus Van Sant - YouTube (5:21).  An ultimately moving experience, one must note that Redford did all his own water stunts while carrying the entire film on his own, all underplayed in a minimalist style, where only what’s essential is revealed.   

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