Each year, the New York Film Festival celebrates the best in movies including major releases, independent works and thought provoking documentaries. Highlighting this year’s offerings was the new offering from actor Robert Redford, All Is Lost, soon to open in area theaters.
The film begins with the man’s voice, that distinctive, natural, unassuming sound that has filled movie theaters for almost 50 years. Time has given his familiar tones striking depth, as if with each year a vocal cord weathers with wisdom. And his words, of a man looking for redemption, asking his family for forgiveness, strike a chord with any of us who travel as many miles.
Little do we realize, as All Is Lost opens, that we will only hear this character speak a handful of words through the film. Nor that we will not have to endure the predictable use of the flashback to fill in the spaces of his character’s backstory. Instead this recreational sailor, listed as “our man” in the credits, fills the film by himself, without dialogue, and sparing the background details of his life. Instead, relying on an actor we always knew had at least one more superlative performance yet to give, the film tells us everything we need to know as this man tries to save his life after a sailing accident in the middle of the sea.
We see, in these early moments of panic, a man filled with indecision who simply doesn’t know how to cope with the urgent matters at hand. Should he disconnect from the random floating trailer that damaged his boat? Should he try to repair the hole the trailer created? Should he try to issue a distress call? How prepared is he to handle a life-threatening situation? Or is he a casual sailor who, for reasons we may never fully know, simply needed the solace that a solo journey would provide?
Robert Redford, an actor who always works from within, and expresses more with his eyes than with his voice, gives “our man” the texture of time in a portrayal rich in nuance and subtle in gesture. We see the panic in his eyes, cushioned at times by the reliability of routine, as he goes about the daily tasks of his boat. We notice the casual nature with which he has approached this voyage. We experience the hope as he tries to maneuver his boat into lanes where cargo ships may see him pass. And we live the disappointment as he begins to run out of ideas of how to be rescued.
What makes All Is Lost so thrilling has as much to do with what writer/director J.C. Chandor avoids as what he pursues. Because he refuses to burden viewers with backstory, he enables Redford the actor to create the character in the present, without forcing us to relive other moments. Because he avoids cluttering the screen with other characters, he gives Redford the screen time to slowly build the character. And because Chandor does not give the actor dialogue, he creates a reality of noisy solitude that immediately takes us into this man’s world.
This use of sound, without dialogue, creates a staggering sense of isolation for our everyman, as his only connection with life becomes the noise that surrounds, from the creaks in the wood of his boat to the various speeds of wind and, of course, the symphony created by the sea. Visually, Chandor places us in the middle of the adventure, drawing us into the man’s world, inspiring us to imagine how we might deal with similar circumstances. That’s why we feel, as the film ends, that we have taken this journey with Redford. And we are richer for making this trip.
Film Nutritional Value
All Is Lost
Content: High. All Is Lost takes us to the middle of a man’s adventure to survive in a story of fear, acceptance, hope and perseverance.
Entertainment: High. Even though the subject matter could be somber, the strong performance and visual style contribute to a captivating experience.
Message: High. As good as it could sound to spend some quiet time on the sea, the film reminds us how solitude can be crowded.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to look at ourselves, and how we might react to a challenging situation, is worthwhile
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your children about how any of us would try to cope with what “our man” has to face.
All Is Lost is rated PG-13 for “brief strong language.” It runs 106 minutes.
5 Popcorn Buckets