Monday, October 21, 2013

All is Lost

It's possible to overstate how gripping the Robert Redford one-man survival show "All is Lost" is, but it's pretty gripping.

We're with Sundance for eight days on the Indian Ocean, first on his yacht, the Virginia Jean, then (after it takes on too much water when hit by the sharp business end of a cargo car containing children's shoes) on an impossibly small circular lifeboat. Storms rage - their distant rumble a terrifying omen of hardship to come -- radio contact is a short-lived pipe dream, the container of "potable water" isn't, and what in hell just leapt out of the water to claim dibs on the fish at the end of Redford's makeshift reel? 

It's as elemental a story as we've seen on the big screen in years. An old book called "Celestial Navigation for Yachtsmen" becomes Redford's constant companion; his sextant tells him when he briefly floats into a shipping lane where one, then another liner passes by, oblivious to his flares and waving arms. "All is Lost" is wordless for most of its 110-minute running time, and is both helped and hurt by the lack of backstory: helped in that it gains an immediacy and a certain aura of mystery, but hurt in that we're not as emotionally invested as we could be. I'm deducting a half-star for the ending, an unworthy copout, especially since writer-director J.C. Chandor (the very good "Margin Call") had a perfect place to park it a few minutes earlier.

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