Tuesday, November 5, 2013

All Is Lost (2013) – Review

Review: All Is Lost is an involving character drama that sadly is overly tedious. The film is about a man sailing alone in the Indian Ocean. One morning he awakes to find that his boat has careened into a floating crate (that must have fallen on a cargo ship) puncturing his hull. Alone at sea in a crippled boat, the man must do all he can just to survive.

Writer-director J.C. Chandor sets up his whole narrative to create the feeling of isolation. He wants the audience to feel like they are experiencing all the trials and tribulations that the man faces during the course of the narrative. And to this end he succeeds. The film is drenched with a feeling of dread – a foreboding feeling that the man will die alone, emotionally and physically broken at sea. Thus, the audience takes on a sizable investment in the man – in his potential survival, a fate that the audience almost wills to happen with their hopeful anticipation.

Chandor also never leaves the man. The camera is with him, close up or from his perspective, throughout. It is almost too much really. The audience seems to not have a break from his gradual downfall. It is very draining. But what is likely the film’s bigger issue is Chandor’s decision to keep the man mostly silent.

The man is alone and thus does not speak during the film, save for a voice-over introduction, a call for help, and frustration driven yell of an expletive. Logically, it makes sense that the man would not speak because there is no one to talk to, but the result of this choice is that the film just feels slow and overly long – when the narrative is otherwise paced rather well. The audience needs more human interaction. Yes, the man (though a strong performance) does convey his emotions silently through his eyes, face, and body language, but the audience needs more. Plus, it only seems natural that he would talk to himself, especially in moments of frustration (which there are many) and anger, or if only for company –being completely alone and isolated. This seems like a small hiccup, but it drastically affects the whole film, especially from a pacing and emotional standpoint. Again, the silence becomes a bit overwhelming and ultimately tedious for the viewer. As engaging a character drama as the film might be (and to some extent is) the viewer is completely pulled out of the narrative simply by being worn down without moments of levity to break the downward spiraling of events (something that could have easily have been provided through the man talking to himself – the recent film Gravity is a good example; the main character is on her own for much of the narrative, but through her own self-oriented dialog the audience stays connected). Chandor might have also tried to more efficiently tell the narrative, having committed to all the silence as to address the pacing issue that arises.

Another issue that presents itself comes in the film’s conclusion. It loses all its meaning, everything the man goes through, and any emotional impact when a Hollywood happy ending is tacked on. It seems that in today’s films narratives are not allowed to be tragedies or filmmakers do not have the gall anymore to do it. They buy into the idea that all we really want is for things to end up okay in the end. That is not real life, and sure films are primarily made as entertainment and thus do not fully ascribe to the rules of real life, but sometimes a narrative would benefit more or be more interesting or be more powerful as a tragedy (a recent example is Ridley Scott’s The Counselor; it ends in tragedy and compelling gets its message across). In this case, All Is Lost would have been much more poignant as a tragedy. As it is, it feels emotionally neutered.

 All Is Lost is on one hand a brilliant film, built on a great mood of despair and the strong performance of a man fighting against all odds, in the face of death, to survive. And yet, it has a few grave flaws that suck the emotion out of it leaving it feeling dull.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: J.C. Chandor through his first two features has shown a knack for garnering strong performances from his actors, which is a great starting point for any film. However, both Margin Call and All Is Lost drag a bit too much pacing wise and lack efficient scene-writing, killing all their momentum. For his next feature, Chandor will hopefully structure his narrative (A Most Violent Year) with a bit more vigor, because he does have talent and a lot of potential.

All Is Lost works in a sense like a silent film and thus there is an extra burden on the film’s score to convey emotion and set the tone. Alex Ebert’s work does this quite well. Working with the good lead performance, it creates an overall moving emotional experience. Frank DeMarco’s photography is also a strong component of the film for the most part. Although, there are moments in which it almost looks surreal, if not fake, which does take the audience out of the narrative momentarily due to the film’s otherwise commitment to realism. Peter Zuccarini’s underwater photography, however, is wonderful, and my favorite aspect of the film. John Goldsmith does not really have much to do production design wise as there are only two small areas the man interacts with: his boat and life raft, but Goldsmith does a good job expressing character through how the boat is organized and what the man keeps in it.

Robert Redford is the sole actor in the whole film. It is a one-man show. This puts a lot on Redford as he must carry the film and connect with the audience without any help. He is very good, but is slightly undermined by the awkwardness of his silence. In a way, it seems to only isolate him from the audience, when the film should actively be working to strike a connection with each viewer.

Summary & score: All Is Lost is very good at first, but as the film’s narrative progresses it becomes more and more tiresome, emotionally disconnecting with the audience. 6/10

1 comment:

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