All is Lost (★★★½)

allislostposterNEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: Talk about making a huge leap forward in your filmmaking abilities; J.C. Chandor can rest easy knowing he demonstrated the directorial style of a pro in his survival film “All is Lost” starring Robert Redford.  Debuting today at the New York Film Festival, you can tell that many critics were simply captivated by what they were witnessing on-screen.  An almost 40-page script and a team of amazing technical magicians encapsulate the awe and wonder of the upcoming Lionsgate feature.

The synopsis is pretty straight forward; a man is out in sea when finds himself fighting mother nature and his own psyche to survive out in the Indian Ocean.

Writer and director J.C. Chandor assembles a man without revealing any back story that the audience can latch onto.  We spend a lot of time with “Our Man” – as he’s named by end credits.  It’s a brilliant constructed character study focusing on human behavior.  There have been plenty of survival films to screen this year showing the different perspectives that human beings take when faced with their own extinction.  “Captain Phillips” has Tom Hanks react when another soul threatens that life while Sandra Bullock relies on her own instinct and brains in “Gravity.”  Redford envelops the body of a man who is surrounded by his own thoughts.  Alone in the ocean, he utilizes tools provided by his boat as well as life experience.  There are no asides or soliloquies for the audience to in tune themselves with the narrative.  We rely on our senses.  Chandor has an admirable aesthetic for telling his stories.  Unafraid to get up close and personal with our main character and to observe the angles from the boat, air, and sea, I was mesmerized nearly the entire time.

Robert Redford has never exerted this amount of skill in his acting career.  At 77-years-old, Redford taps into the epitome of the human spirit with no words to assist him.  With only nearly ten lines of words spoken, 90% of that in our opening shot of a shipping container with no Redford present, he relies on his own mannerisms and dexterity to bridge us comfortably and confidently into our tale.  It’s his best performance in the last 25 years.

AllisLost_ImageFrank G. DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini, dual cinematographers, gather gorgeous imagery especially those captured from beneath the ocean’s surface.  In our violent moments when nature shows her true aggression, the two find the pleasant bearings of Redford’s dread.

As it would be expected in a film with no dialogue, the sound design becomes the forefront and star.  Rain and ocean rush across the screen and speakers to place us right in the moment.  A fierce intensity boils to the brim when the sound really takes off.

The film tends to be bloated a bit.  At 106 minutes, a cut down to perhaps 90 might have tightened up some of the scenes and give a more clear and fluid cinematic experience.  Trust that when the movie does take off, the Visual Effects team needs to be commended.  It’s not as simple as sitting in a life raft and watching the rain fall; in many ways, “All is Lost” acts as an independent action thriller with a strong narrative device, something we don’t see too often.  The music of Alex Ebert certainly helps and acts a strong companion piece to the sound work.

All is Lost” is one of the more pleasing and emotionally satisfying dramas of the year that had me at the edge of my seat.  There are many that could see it as a guy just having a really bad week, or one of the few cinematic endeavors of the year that exemplifies the vulnerable parts of soul.  If you’re looking for a quality Oscar contender for 2013, “All is Lost” will offer you a delectable helping with all the trimmings.

The film opens in limited released October 18.

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