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Dustin Putman

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All Is Lost  (2013)
2 Stars
Directed by J.C. Chandor.
Cast: Robert Redford.
2013 – 106 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for brief strong language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 15, 2013.
The amount of spoken dialogue in "All Is Lost" could be easily compiled on a single formatted screenplay page. This in and of itself isn't a problem—minimalist fare relying on a stripped-down narrative and a keen visual eye can be some of the most bold and memorable around—but when a film defies authenticity for the sole intention of going against the grain, it can pull the viewer right out of the experience. Sad but true, this is what "All Is Lost" is guilty of above all else. Writer-director J.C. Chandor (2011's "Margin Call") entrusts in 77-year-old Robert Redford (2013's "The Company You Keep") the task of holding the audience's attention for 106 minutes with little more than his expressively aging but still handsome face in front of the camera. The film he is in, unfortunately, feels awfully familiar and, eventually, even turgid.

Our Man (Robert Redford) is given no name and virtually no backstory. The point is not who he was, but what he must do in the present to survive when his yacht hits a barge 1,700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits. As he slowly heads toward this waterway where other ships might be able to see him, his punctured vessel begins to fill with water, and not even an attempt to patch it up with some cloth and lacquer can save him from the inevitable. With dwindling rations that soon run out, a fuzzy CB connection, and a violent storm approaching on the horizon, he is faced with a horrifying life-or-death situation that seems to be tipping in the latter direction.

Barebones and no-nonsense, "All Is Lost" follows Robert Redford's character as he performs manual labor while trying to figure out how to get out of his current dire position. With nothing surrounding him but water as far as the eye can see, he uses his experience and know-how to exhaust every possible option. Tracking his position on a map as his yacht—and, when that sinks, his inflatable raft—floats toward the populated straits, he faces off against the coarse, unapologetic elements, tends to the bloody gash on his forehead, and prepares his flares for the first sign of human life he hopes to see. Redford carries the movie with almost no dialogue other than some frustrated swear words. He is so quiet most of the time that it grows rather unbelievable. Yes, he is by himself, but one would think that the heightened experience he is having would aspire at least a few under-the-breath mutterings. Not so here, and so the proceedings become a bit of a game in seeing how long the film can go with no speaking. This might seem like a minor observation, but it does compromise one's ability to give him or herself over to the goings-on.

The other problem with "All Is Lost" is its lack of inventiveness. There isn't a moment in the picture that hasn't been seen before, and done with more perceptive depth, from 2000's "Cast Away," to 2004's "Open Water," to 2013's "Gravity." Those particular stories had more to say and explore about life, death and the human condition. By comparison, Our Man is stuck going through predictable motions—and emotions. The cinematography by Frank G. DeMarco (2010's "Rabbit Hole") and Peter Zuccarini is certainly stirring enough, serene yet treacherous as schools of fish swim beneath an adrift Redford's raft. The final moments, without giving them away, are also dramatically potent and full of tension. Beyond this, it is disappointing that writer-director J.C. Chandor has not developed his script enough to have made a more memorable drama. Jostling around on the same flat level, spurts of interest coming but few and far between, "All Is Lost" should send one away with a dropped, unsettled stomach. Instead, it doesn't elicit much more than a shrug.
© 2013 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman