Wednesday, October 9, 2013

ALL IS LOST (2013) New York Film Festival 2013

Before I start I need to say at the start I have not seen Gravity which has a similar story but is set in space and is supposed to be one of the greatest spectacles ever put on film. I say this because some tweets coming out of the press conference for this film bemoaned how All is Lost will get lost because of Gravity. I don't think so, I'd like to hope that small human dramas will win out.

Okay- everyone who is proclaiming that Robert Redford is a shoe in for the Oscar, get off the ledge. He gives a great physical performance, you will marvel at what he does) but I will argue that it's not the best performance.

But I'm kind of getting ahead of myself.

All is Lost concerns the sinking of a sail boat in the Indian Ocean. The boat collides with a lost shipping container which puts a hole in the side of Robert Redford's boat. What follows is Redford's fight for survival as the boat takes on water which wrecks the gear which makes sailing difficult.

One of the best performances of Robert Redford's career, he pretty much is front and center in every single solitary shot. There are no cutaways, there are no other characters, there is no wide establishing shots, there is just Redford and his ordeal up close and personal. Redford is the ultimate in self reliance taking each disaster in turn. Handling each thing as it comes. This is the guy we all want to be. It is an amazing performance.

The thing is it becomes rather one note. Yes we see the desperation at times, but largely its Redford doing what he has to do. It's not until late in the game that his mask slips and we see him at wits end. Its moving when it happens, but at the same time I would have liked to have seen something earlier on.

I blame writer director JC Chandor, who, while making one hell of a good film, missteps a couple of times and makes it just miss being great.

The problems with the film come from three different places-

First Chandor never really uses any sort of establishing shot. We either have Redford in the frame or we see something he is looking at. While this makes things up close and personal it never really puts us in the middle of the ocean.  There is never one shot of Redford in the boat in the ocean that gives any sense of him being out there. We do see other things- storm clouds for example- but never the boat. I would have liked one shot- the first one would have been fine, but we never get it. The result for me was a sense he could have been on a set with a crew.

The second thing that bothered me is that how is it that a guy like Redford who is in the middle of the ocean all alone needs to read a book on celestial navigation. Here is a guy who is capable of being there- not only capable of being there but doing everything he has to do but he still needs an instruction book, not once but a couple of times? Once would have been a refresher. After that I didn't buy it (or where the sextant was).

The last thing that bothered me was that at some point I slightly disengaged and began to ponder what was the next thing that was going to go wrong. Whats the next twist. Yes it's logical and realistic but at some point, short of it being based on a true story its a tad too much-I mean everything seems to go south.

They are relatively minor annoyances for the most part since the film will grab you and hold you tight. Yes they bothered me but at the same time I wanted to see what happens next I needed to know is this the rend of Redford. Its so tense at times you could feel the audience wrapped tight as a drum. The guy next to me at the screening was bracing himself during some of the storm sequences. Honestly you will never want to be on a small boat again.

This is also the sort of thing that will inspire the next several decades of film writing with discussion of the central metaphor of man against nature- What is Redford and the the director trying to say- look for thousands of people to try and explain it.

Don't get me wrong, this is a really good movie - one of the better films at The New York Film Festival and it demands to be seen on a big screen (if you're sitting close bring sea sick pills for the storm sequences), but I wouldn't quite hand it all the awards just yet.

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