All Is Lost is not a comforting movie, or even a movie worth watching twice, but it’s an incredibly important one. It sews together incredible themes, brilliant camerawork and a once-in-a-lifetime acting performance from someone you’d both expect it from and still be blown away by — Robert Redford. (I was pissed Christian Bale got nominated in 2014 for American Hustle, just because of his unnecessary weight gain and general smugness, but now I fully understand the uproar. Bobby Reds deserved that nod over him, no question.)
Within the first few minutes of clicking “play,” I was already stressed out and a little nauseous. You know the solitude is looming — it’s in the title, after all — and you know the ocean is basically the globe’s own biggest weapon. Yet the unexpectedness begins early, too. Redford — who I’ll keep referring to as such, because his character’s name is simply “Man,” and I have no doubt the actual Redford would behave identically in real life — is a prepared person, but “prepared” is sort of insulting, actually. He’s an Eagle Scout inside of an ER Technician. He makes MacGuyver look like a clown. (Okay, most people do.) He is a nautical genius, a professional seaman, a true captain. He’s thought of everything. He has waterproof pants. He knows how to ration. He can tie knots. He can purify saltwater. And most importantly, he can keep his shit together.
The script for this movie intrigues me to no end, possibly even more so than the finished product, because it’s gotta be a dreamy haze of description. There’s no dialogue, as Redford isn’t the type to talk to himself to keep company. He’s a student, figuring out the minutae of a sextant in his spare time, rather than bawling into his empty bean can. Yet even with his stoicism, his sternness, he still expresses such nuance and depth of emotion that you truly can’t imagine anyone else playing this role. He survives insurmountable challenges to keep himself alive, and without uttering a word, he builds a history for himself that we can see plainly on his face. When he writes that note, and chucks it into the ocean, it’s the first sign of remote weakness he allows — and it’s not weakness so much as relief. He lets himself stop trying, because he’s done all he can to stay afloat, literally. It’ll rip your heart out.
I’m even more curious about J.C. Chandor, the director, because he’s got a pretty diverse C.V. to date. Between this, A Most Violent Year and Margin Call (which I shoulda seen), he’s proven himself in three very different genres. He’s got an Iñarritú thing going on, or maybe a Lee. He puts his own color palette on the film — blues, grays, harsh warm shades — but he knows when to let the genres do the talking, too. I’m stoked to see what he comes out with next.
And, while I’m at it, a semi-non-sequitur. A recent episode of The Last Man on Earth, “Pitch Black,” also touched on the concept of being marooned on a boat — except here, there’s a comedic bent, a post-apocalyptic setting, and an extra guy. Yet the sentiment is still so strong — there’s something incredibly unifying in that type of terror. It’s hard to imagine reacting differently than Redford or Mike (Jason Sudeikis on LMOE). Both of them stayed at the top of their intelligence (to borrow a phrase from improv) and did exactly what they thought was right to survive. In the case of Sudeikis’ character, he abandoned his compatriot. In the case of Redford, he abandoned himself. I won’t give away either ending, though. You’ll have to watch.