Monday, 11 November 2013

All is Lost

Sometimes the world of film and its relationship to the box office leaves me wondering whether all is lost for the future of cinema. You know what I mean: all the big money and mass audiences going to mediocre or lousy films while many of the best films fade quickly into obscurity, if they make it to the theatres at all. There are of course exceptions, even in Hollywood, like Gravity, but at the moment the top of the box office chart features useless films like the latest Jackass film (Bad Grandpa), Last Vegas and the new superhero blockbuster (Thor: The Dark World) while one of the best films of the year played in only one Winnipeg theatre for two weeks and is unlikely to recoup its modest budget. 

I’m talking about All is Lost, the latest film by J.C. Chandor, who made one of my top ten films of 2011 (Margin Call). All is Lost is a very unusual film in that it features exactly one actor (Robert Redford), whose character doesn’t even have a name, and virtually no dialogue whatsoever. It is also a masterpiece.

Our protagonist (getting on in years but still in good shape) is alone on a sailboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean (sounds like fun to me, but Kathy doesn’t think so) when his boat is struck by a container which has fallen off a container ship. Water is coming in fast, the electrical equipment has stopped functioning, and our sailor has to work quickly and with great ingenuity to try to stay afloat. This continues for the better part of two hours, with all kinds of bad things happening to him and his boat in the meantime (I won’t spoil the film by saying what they are). I also won’t tell you whether he survives his ordeal. 

Redford’s performance is spot-on as the retired, calm fast-thinking sailor. Without words, he is able to convey his thoughts and fears throughout the film. This is aided by Chandor’s brilliant screenplay. Chandor uses countless small actions to convey thoughts as he moves the film along at just the right pace to keep the audience always on edge and at the edge of their seats. The cinematography and powerful (though minimal) use of music are likewise excellent. 

All is Lost works well as a pure adventure film but it is much more than that. Despite the lack of dialogue, this film is a profound work of theological reflection that operates at various levels. Unfortunately, to describe and engage with that theological reflection would require revealing things (like the ending) which I will not reveal. Maybe after All is Lost has been on video for a while, I’ll revisit this review. In the meantime, All is Lost gets **** and will certainly be in my top ten of the year (along with Gravity, which has much in common with All is Lost, and 12 Years a Slave - it’s been a good fall for film; maybe all is not lost). My mug is up! If it’s still playing where you are, watch it on the big screen.

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