Saturday, January 18, 2014

ALL IS LOST (2013) – A Review

A remarkably simple yet engaging story: An old man (Robert Redford) alone on a boat in the Indian Ocean awakens to find that his vessel has collided with a stray shipping container. Said collision has put a sizable hole in the side of his boat. Troubles follow.

This simple-yet-radical film is one that can be taken or interpreted several different ways…

The Monster Movie: This is terror in a truly elemental form. In All is Lost, the monster is the biggest one ever seen on screen – an ocean. As Redford’s troubles mount, so does the tension. Very, very few full-on horror films have ever achieved the sustained level of tension that this film does. As a straight ahead thriller, All is Lost more than holds its own.

The Metaphor, Part 1: The old man is America, adrift on the world economy. The shipping container is China, which fatally damages America’s ability to stay afloat.

The Metaphor, Part 2: It’s the environment, stupid. Our tiny little boat (civilization), afloat on the ocean (the natural world) is finally sunk by the weight of pollution our disposable culture produces (symbolized by a shipping container full of Chinese-made shoes).

The Experimental Film: How many films are there that you can think of that feature just one person, and essentially no dialogue? I can’t think of any. But that’s what you get here. With CGI and special effects extravaganzas having become almost the only thing Hollywood produces, we’ve gotten used to thinking of films as a visual medium more than ever. But the absence of any dialogue in All is Lost shows just how ubiquitous and important the spoken word has become in films. Not that the film suffers from the lack of it – not at all. It’s just that the lack of language is so novel at this point. This could easily have been a silent film – three or four title cards would take care of all the speaking you’ll hear.

It was an oddly circular week of films for my wife and me. We started off on Monday with a digital projection of an actual silent film (The Golem) from 1920. Though The Golem was a digital print, the image was a little soft, due to the age of the original materials.

Then, on Friday, when silent-but-with-sound All is Lost started up, I could hear the familiar soft whirr of the 35mm projector in the booth behind us. It was a pleasant surprise. The print of the film had a few lines and scratches, but the images, free from the weaknesses of digital imagery, were sharp and clear. As we watched, and the projector whirred behind us, I thought that the film’s title, All is Lost, was appropriate for what will probably be the last new, mainstream movie I see in 35mm. That is a technology now essentially lost to the digital era – an era that does not, in my opinion, live up to its hype. Digital is cheaper, and easier, and too often looks it.

But I digress. All is Lost is a film I think would appeal to many different film goers, many different perspectives. While fully engaging you as a viewer, it also allows you a great deal more room to ponder and interpret for yourself than most films do. If the film is indeed a kind of experiment, I think it is a successful one. Sadly, we now know that success does not include any real recognition from Oscar voters, but the Oscars have never really been about quality anyway.

All is Lost is a film of quality. It deserves your attention. You will not be disappointed.

1 comment:

  1. It's not surprising Redford didn't get a best actor nomination. Since he doesn't speak, probably a lot of academy voters don't think he's really "acting." And what clip could they show on the show itself? The oscars are a waste of time and energy.