Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I don’t want to risk overselling the masterful survival tale All is Lost – it’s as simple and straightforward as storytelling will likely get, but at the same time, it strenuously avoids cliché at every turn and is totally devoid of obvious, for-the-cheap-seats-sentimentality.  It’s a nearly wordless motion picture, relying on clear-cut visual storytelling to communicate its ideas and feelings.  Writer/director J.C. Chandor and screen idol Robert Redford, in a historic performance, take the viewer on a harrowing and breathtaking journey with a finale that shakes to the core – this is vital cinema for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the medium.  Recalling the sadness and melancholy of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea but also infused with a sense of pride and grace under pressure, All is Lost will likely test the limits of most moviegoers, as it offers little in the way of backstory or easily identifiable character traits, and values patience and quiet like few recent films.   The primal muscularity and overwhelming visceral tension that Chandor and cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco achieved harkens back to 80's-era Friedkin and Mann, recalling past glories such as Sorcerer and Thief, while sharing familiar beats with modern classics such as Castaway and last year’s wildly underrated The Grey.  Shooting on the open water in anamorphic, 2.35:1 widescreen, while also utilizing hand-held cameras which were fitted with wide-angle lenses, the filmmakers presented themselves with a huge task, and the film possess a near-constant state of nervousness and excitement.  Alex Ebert’s moody and inventive score surrounds the film but never overpowers it, allowing Redford’s remarkable face to do the heavy emotional lifting rather than a cloying soundtrack; it’s the smartest use of music in a film that I can remember.  All is Lost is a tour de force for all involved, a work that’s interested in pushing boundaries and expectations, and is clearly the closest we will get to pure, existential filmmaking in the current Hollywood landscape. The amount of separation between All is Lost and the rest of this year's movies basically amounts to a continental divide. 2013 will likely go down with 1997, 1999, and 2007 as a milestone year for cinema, but for me, nothing is as magnificent or as emotionally profound as Chandor's minimalist masterwork. 

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