Robert Redford vs. Nature: All Is Lost

It is always a refreshing pleasure to encounter a strong, entertaining, well-made film at the movie theatres in a dark age when Bad Grandpa tops the weekend box office and coarseness, crudeness, violence, and phony over-the-top effects and explosions rule.

In contrast, All Is Lost has a simple, but engrossing storyline: one man`s yacht begins to take on water in the middle of the Indian Ocean and he tries to survive numerous setbacks against impossible odds. The film is remarkable for its conflicts, crises with realistic effects, a believable performance by a very vulnerable, older-looking Robert Redford, and no language except for one curse and a few sentences of opening voice-over monologue. Otherwise, the stereo sound figures prominently with boat creakings, squall roar, and continuous water noise. The action takes place in both full sunlight and night or storm darkness.

Let`s put it this way about the plot: anything that can go wrong does and–although the man`s common sense, intelligence, and available technology work sometimes–nature offers little forgiveness to a mariner who could not possibly foresee all the negative things that could potentially befall him. For that matter, the modern commercial world with its large, seemingly unmanned cargo ships and adrift cargo containers of useless runners project a similar, care-less indifference about the havoc and plight experienced at the level of individuals such as the man.

As always, truly good acting communicates through facial expression and movement. Along the way in this film, the viewer sees Redford`s man as alternately energetic, hopeful, determined, resourceful, unbeaten, depressed, amazed, embattled, exhausted, and defeated. It is hard to imagine this unique modern variation of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea being performed as well and as convincingly by anyone other than Redford–one of the few remaining true stars of the previous movie generation still working.

Without revealing the ending, I will remark that it is a wish fulfillment–the very thing that “our man”–as he is identified in the credits–and conventional audience most desire, and at the same time it is quite realistic and plausible. Very well-executed.

All Is Lost demonstrates finally, that good movies are still possible if the storylines are strong and believable, and if the conflicts are simple, strong, and timeless. They are still possible today without resorting to non-stop swearing, continuous one-second shots, loud music, nudity, horror, crude humor, animation, 3-D,¬†or over-the-top violence. Instead, All Is Lost shows us how powerful, memorable, and effective films can still be, especially if you have an entertaining believable human story, the right actor (Redford), and right director–J.C. Chandor.

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