Thursday, January 30, 2014

2013 #1: ALL IS LOST

Coming off the fancy-pants dialogue-show that was Margin Call, it’s something of a bizarre notion that J.C. Chandor’s second feature film would be the almost entirely wordless survival-at-sea drama All is Lost. Communicating exclusively through powerful, visual storytelling on a large scale within a limited budget seemed something of a Herculean-task, a task that Chandor was more than up to tackling. Featuring a historic, eloquent performance from Robert Redford as the aptly named Our Man, the film takes on a Hemmingway-esque vibe of existentialism and self-reflection during times of great personal stress, drawing the viewer intimately into the drama and the archetypal character of Our Man, so that by the end of the film, the viewer has become one with Redford in spirit. So few movies would have the narrative courage to not cut-away to grieving or hysterical loved ones, unimportant secondary characters or a frantic search party, but that’s exactly what Chandor does here; he’s only interested in the plight of Our Man and how he reacts to every situation, so as a result, the connection we feel to him is inordinate and special. Purposefully slow moving but enormously engrossing as a result of the patience of the storytelling and the fullness of Redford’s wordless, magnetic performance, this is more than just a “one-man show.” Some predictable plot elements are rewarded with unexpected results and variations on themes that we’ve see before but never in this fashion. The sensations of dread and solitude have rarely been conveyed this well on screen; this is a sort of personal/emotional horror movie, complete with ominous sound work, a subtle, eerie musical score, and point-of-view cinematography that limits perspective and vantage point. The muscular camerawork by Frank DeMarco recalls vintage-era William Friedkin and Michael Mann, balancing the harsh realities of nature with the dangerous creations of the industrialized world. And then there’s the breathtaking finale, which, quite literally, left me an emotional disaster inside the theater, requiring some time spent in the lobby to collect myself. Maybe it was just that particular day and that particular screening, but I was devastated by the final moments of this unconditional masterpiece and the decisions that Chandor made as a filmmaker. A second viewing a week later re-confirmed my feelings: this is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and far and away the best film from 2013.

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