"All Is Lost" is a harrowing tale about a sailor lost at sea.
What's the big deal about that, you might say?
The big deal is that the sailor is played by none other than Robert Redford.
And, at 77, the filming of "All Is Lost" was also likely a harrowing experience for Redford.
"All Is Lost" is all Redford. The character he plays, simply called "Our Man," is the only person in the film, and he's on-screen for virtually the entire film.
The film begins with a voice-over narration by Redford and then a title card tells us it's "Eight Days Earlier."
Our Man (Redford) is sailing in the Indian Ocean "1,700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Strait," a title card tells us. It is 4:50 p.m. July 13, it's states.
A shipping container one of those big rectangular corrugated steel containers you've seen on tractor-trailers on the interstates, or double-decker on a freight train and on those huge cargo-container freighters that fell off a cargo ship rams Our Man's beautiful 39-foot yacht.
There's a huge gash in the sailboat's hull. Water rushes in. Our Man dislodges the cargo container (ironically, Maersk, the same as that of the cargo freighter in "Captain Phillips) and patches the hole. Some of the apparent cargo of sneakers floats on the water. The yacht's communication equipment is nonfunctional.
This is all shown in deliberate, meticulous detail with a stoic Redford going about the repairs in a workmanlike, emotionless and steady manner.
If that were all Our Man had to face, "All Is Lost" would be a very short film, indeed. However, next there's a storm at sea and the yacht is tossed about like a toy boat in a bathtub. Things deteriorate from there, until Our Man abandons ship and is adrift in an inflatable lifeboat not much bigger than a backyard kiddie pool.
You may wonder, "Who wants to sit through a film like this?" Indeed, at the matinee, only two remained, including yours truly, as three movie-goers left well before the credits rolled.
Even so, "All Is Lost" is not dead in the water. Stay with the film to the end we won't play spoiler here and you will be rewarded with a transformative film-going experience.
Unlike Tom Hanks in "Cast Away" (2000), Redford is an Our Man of few words in "All Is Lost." The screenplay, in terms of dialogue would probably amount to all of one page, if that. The entire screenplay is said to be only 32 pages. A typical movie screenplay is about one page per minute of screen time.
"All Is Lost" is comparable, in terms of its feeling of utter isolation, to Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" (1995); in terms of tension, to Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" (1944), and, in terms of one man's desperation, to Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" (2012).
"All Is Lost" is a one-man "Titanic."
But, really, "All Is Lost" is in a class all its own. It's a landmark piece of cinema that should garner several Oscar nominations, with Redford nearly guaranteed an actor Oscar nomination.
Redford is very reined in, in body language and facial expression. With a ruddy-complexion, his countenance isn't exactly grim. Under his reddish sandy hair, his expressions range narrowly from wary-eyed, to passive, to resigned. His taut movements signal a body well-lived in. This is no "A River Runs Through It" (1992) or "Out of Africa" (1985) or "Barefoot in the Park" (1967). Redford is all-in for this one.
Director J.C. Chandor ("Margin Call," 2011), working from his own screenplay, keeps the camera trained on Redford, staying in close and not looking away, except to convey Our Man's point of view. The near wordless visuals are augmented by a superb score of brass and strings by Alex Ebert, who wrote the evocative song, "Amen," played by Mitchel Yoshida and heard over the closing credits.
"All Is Lost" has a meditative quality to it. It is bleak unrelenting and remarkable.
Robert Redford, after a career of pretty-boy roles, Hollywood accolades and Sundance film-makers' championing, is symbolically saying, with this choice of roles, it all gets down to this. We are all alone and sometimes at sea.
"All Is Lost," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.) for brief strong language; Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama; Run time: 1 hr., 46 min.; Distributed by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.
Credit Readers Anonymous: "All Is Lost" was filmed on location in New Providence Island, Bahamas; Baja California, Mexico; and Santa Catalina and Los Angeles, Calif.
Unreel, Nov. 29:
"Frozen," PG: The animation film adventure comedy, which is a Disney version based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, includes the voice of Kristen Bell.
"Oldboy," R: Spike Lee directs Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Samuel L. Jackson in the action drama about a man seeking vengeance after being locked in confinement for 20 years.
"Black Nativity," PG: Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige star in the drama based on the gospel musical by Langston Hughes about a Baltimore teen who spends Christmas with estranged New York City relatives.
"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," PG-13: Idris Elba stars as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris stars as Winnie Mandela in the biopic about Mandela's journey from childhood to the first democratically-elected president of South Africa.
Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, thelehighvalley-press.com and the Times-News web site, tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.
Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes