The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

All Is Lost

Live or die, survival at its most base. You choose. How much do you want to live? On an isolated mountaintop. In the desert. In a wasteland. On the expansive, seemingly endless high seas. Food, water and supplies are dwindling, and there is absolutely no guarantee that help is on the way. None. How far can you push yourself to keep on going, to keep on fighting? So goes 2013's All Is Lost.

Somewhere in the Indian Ocean, some 1,700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Strait, a man (Robert Redford) is sailing along on his sailboat. He wakes up below deck and promptly steps into ankle-deep water. He finds a hole in the side of his boat and heads to the top deck and is stunned at what he find. An immense shipping container has struck the side of his sailboat, imbedding itself and letting the water not so slowly seep in. The boat is able to sail, but the man is forced to improvise quickly, finding something that can serve as a patch to stop the flowing water. He fixes it, buying at least some time. The situation is dire just the same though. His radio and all of his equipment have been destroyed in the water, his food and water is limited, and it looks like he's sailing right into horrific weather. Time is running out, but this man is going to do his damnedest to live, to survive.

What a flick. I guess I should call this a film, not a movie, but a film. Director J.C. Chandor's follow-up film to his debut, Margin Call, deserves the moniker 'film' too. This isn't a story interested in special effects, in gimmicks, in anything forced or even remotely fake. Above all else, this is a story that plain and simple is interested in primal survival. There aren't any distractions from the mission at hand here. Robert Redford is the only person we even see the entire movie. This is a man adrift at sea surrounded by thousands of miles of open water. It takes place over eight days, the opening scene leaving the finale open-ended with a voiceover that's longer than any future dialogue we'll see in a 106-minute movie. Oh, and limited though that dialogue may be, Chandor wrote the script too, a series of trials and tribulations that would test any one man's will to keep living.

So that Robert Redord fella, he's pretty cool, huh? A true Hollywood legend who has done it all from acting to directing to producing to starting up the Sundance Film Festival, there really isn't much Redford hasn't done in films. As far as film roles go, this one is certainly a new and different part. More importantly, more impressive is that Redford takes over this movie with very few words said. Adrift at sea, surviving and nothing else, this is a quiet, intense, thoughtful, introspective performance. Listed in the credits solely as 'Our Man,' Redford makes us root for this man because that's all there is to do. We don't get any flashbacks, no background, no mentions of his family, kids, a wife, if he even has any of those. It's almost like the story takes place in an existential bubble. The only real interference is the potential of being rescued. Those moments are fleeting though -- never dwelling on them -- with the focus solely on Redford, doing so much with so little. It's a mannerism here. A facial expression here. Very natural, never forced and dripping with authenticity.

Like its character, 'Lost' is as minimalist as it comes. Survive or die. We don't get any distractions or detours. This is a man at sea somewhere in the Indian Ocean. There's a pretty decent sized hole in his boat, water flows in, his supplies are low, his radio is out, and He Wants To Live. Don't think this is an action-packed movie, Robert Redford dealing with pirates and sharks and all sorts of hell the ocean can offer. The look of the movie is excellent, showing claustrophobic scenes on his boat, the Virginia Jean (his wife? a long-lost love? Who knows?), as the water drips in, and then huge wide shots (frightening in its beauty and immensity) of the expansiveness of the Indian Ocean. These are shots that put in perspective how small one boat is, how small one man is. It's easy to see how the ocean could swallow up that one boat, that one man up in an instant. We see storms rolling in on the horizon, and it's as unsettling as anything you could see in a thriller or horror flick. Uncomfortable throughout a 106-minute movie. Kudos to cinematographers Frank DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini for filming a beautiful, uncomfortable movie.

A series of little episodes that all feature one individual's desperate desire to live does provide for some slow-moving portions here. Some scenes are more intense than others, simple as that. The opener is a subtle gem as the man finds a shipping container imbedded in his boat. "How the hell did this happen?!?" is what I would have been screaming. Two different storms roll in, providing hellaciously uncomfortable sequences, death hanging in the air. The most nerve-inducing sequences have the man (now in a raft) trying to float into the shipping lanes...and succeeding. Two sequences show the complete and utter desperation he feels, survival so close. The best scene is the finale though, his energy and will running out, even resorting to writing a message and throwing it off the raft in a bottle. The final scene is open-ended, Chandor even admitting he wants viewers to pick how it ends, to make their own conclusions. Until my buddy brought something up, I never even considered it open-ended so that will be up to you.

One last thing. I really liked composer Alex Ebert's score, the winner at the Golden Globes but not even getting an Oscar nomination. The lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Ebert's score is understated at its best, a soft, eerie, ethereal score playing over the man's desperate attempts. Listen to the entire soundtrack HERE, the sample I'm talking about playing immediately. Not quite a trance score, but there is a simple, elegant sound to Ebert's score that fits with the story and its tone in perfect unison. A difficult movie in general, probably not for everyone, but definitely worth checking out and experiencing.

All Is Lost (2013): ***/****

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