Movies

Review: 'All Is Lost'

(Three-and-a-half stars)

Batten down the hatches for "All Is Lost," the unusual new sailing drama from writer-director J.C. Chandor. The only actor on screen for 106 minutes is 77-year-old Robert Redford, and words are pared down to a bare minimum, but all is riveting.

Redford plays an unnamed sailor, out on his own in the Indian Ocean, who encounters serious, and escalating, trouble. That's the story. Go ahead and log your "Old Man and the Sea" jokes. I'll wait. The truth is that Redford, though no spring chicken, remains preternaturally vital, his performance equally impressive in its physical action and its minutely detailed projection of moment-to-moment thought and feeling. With calm confidence, he holds the screen.

Chandor made the scene two years ago with the excellent Wall Street drama "Margin Call," and he's made a canny choice to follow up that highly verbal, even theatrical film with "All is Lost," which has the elemental impact of a silent film.

There are mechanics at play here, certainly those of sailing and perhaps those of fate. As a "man vs. wild" adventure in the Jack London mode (and perhaps reminiscent of the 1972 Redford vehicle "Jeremiah Johnson"), "All Is Lost" has plenty of fearsome moments, but the deeper fears are existential: man in mortal contention with an indifferent universe. For those willing to go there, the picture serves as a poetic allegory for aging and contemplation of the void. Everyone dies alone, so they say, though that's not to imply Redford's character does: no spoilers here.

Admittedly, that's not going to be date-night material for everybody ("Honey, how about 'All Is Lost'? That sounds fun"). But viewers of a certain age will get more out of the picture, in part because of their built-in relationship with the star. Though Redford is playing a character, it's not hard to project him onto the role. It could just as well be him: a man of some means and ingenuity whose force of will and creativity rise to the occasion when tested.

The intimacy "All Is Lost" forges between the viewer and this modern Everyman contributes to a sustained suspense (so too do the crack work of composer Alex Ebert and editor Pete Beaudreau). It's unfortunate that "All Is Lost" has to follow the tough act of Alfonso Cuaron's hit movie "Gravity," given their narrative and thematic overlap. "Gravity" is terrific, but Chandor's film is yet more uncompromising and visceral for being "down to earth."

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. One hour, 46 minutes.

Comments

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm

This turns out to be a rather hard movie to watch, and oddly similar in theme to the sic-fi movie "Gravity", though not quite as riveting. I saw it last weekend at the Guild movie theater in Menlo Park. It's been a long time since I have seen a movie at the Guild, and the theater is really getting old, dingy, uncomfortable, and just about ready to be closed down. Maybe if we had seen it at a nicer theater it might have seemed a better movie. I used to love the Guild, but at this point it is better avoided.

"All Is Lost" is a very raw movie, very minimal dialog, very minimal context. We get a few words in the beginning but do not really know when they are spoken and may even have been put in at the last minute to give the audience something to focus on. There are some beautiful shots of the ocean, but surprisingly few once the ocean and nature are the antagonist here. We see Redford, the old man, and the sea, but very few special effects or terrifying shots, such as in "A Perfect Storm", it is mostly what just seems like the relentless onslaught of bad luck.

In a perfectly empty ocean in the middle of sleeping Redford is awakened by water flooding his boat. He works hard and determinedly to fix it, but he runs into a storm that turns the boat upside down and makes matters worse. I'm glad I saw the movie, but I could not sit through it again, and I have to give it low marks for story and satisfaction as we never really know what happened or why - it's simply nature against man.

I'd rate the movie about 5/10, though it's worth seeing if you like this kind of theme - and I do, there are numerous good points to it, it's simply limited and doesn't give you much.

The Guild theater really needs to do something. One thing that is annoying is that there is a huge parking lot in the back of the theater, and just as big warning signs not to park there - even one weekends or when the other stores are closed! What is up with that ... way to be good neighbors. I'd love to know just who and what store put those signs up there and enforces them and why they are so miserly when there are not even any customers or their stores are not even open, just so I can be sure never to buy anything in their store or from their parent company if they have one.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2013 at 3:24 am

It appears that movie comments behave differently than news comments. The only way
I can find the movie comments for 'All Is Lost' is to go into the Town Square
comment listings and search it out, comments do not show up by clicking on the actual
review article from the front PAO page.

This seems like it is out of deference to movie producers or theaters whose attendance
might be affected by news of a bad movie getting around. After all we sure have a lot
of bad movies coming out these days.

Why do the movie comments not show up under the original review/article link in the
Palo Alto Online?


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 5, 2013 at 9:28 am

Yes that's kind of odd about the comment feature -- if you hadn't pointed it out, I wouldn't have noticed. I read the reviews to avoid being totally clueless about what's out there, though rarely go to see any first runs. I think "Big Fish" was my last. But I frequent The Stanford, being a sucker for the classics (and bargain popcorn).


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2013 at 1:11 pm

The Stanford is the best Palo Alto has to offer ... it is great, and the movies are almost always better than anything playing elsewhere. The seats are a little tough to take, but I love that place, and the price and the snacks are also the best.

The Guild on the other hand needs to be torn down. I used to love that place, but it's really disgusting these days.

When you read a review here online you should get access to comments people make about the movie, or maybe a link to IMDB. It's hard to comment on movies, and I like to read other people's impressions of movies.


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