All is Lost is as simple and straightforward as storytelling will likely get, but at the same time, it strenuously avoids or upends cliché at almost every turn and is totally devoid of obvious, for-the-cheap-seats-sentimentality. It’s a nearly wordless motion picture, relying on clear-cut visual storytelling to communicate its ideas and feelings, and I am never less than fully moved to tears by its devastating, thought provoking conclusion. Seriously – I was an emotional, physical, and spiritual DISASTER when the lights came up after my first viewing in the theater, literally bawling like a confused, scared baby. This film AFFECTED me, and after countless viewings, I’m still choked up when that final sequence begins to unfold. Writer/director J.C. Chandor and screen legend Robert Redford, in an utterly historic performance, take the viewer on a harrowing and breathtaking journey with an ending that shakes to the core – this is vital cinema for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the medium. Recalling the sadness and melancholy of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea but also infused with a sense of pride and grace under pressure, All is Lost will likely test the limits of most moviegoers, as it offers little in the way of backstory or easily identifiable character traits, and values patience and quiet like few recent films.
The primal muscularity and overwhelming visceral tension that Chandor and cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco achieved harkens back to 80’s-era Friedkin and Mann as well as the works of Philip Kaufman, Joe Carnahan, and Robert Zemeckis, recalling films such as Sorcerer, Thief, The White Dawn, The Grey, and Castaway, while still achieving its own sense of place and importance. Shooting on the open water in full 2.35:1 widescreen, while also utilizing hand-held cameras which were fitted with wide-angle lenses, the filmmakers presented themselves with a huge task, and the film possess a near-constant state of nervousness and visual excitement. Whatever CGI or green screen work that was used was brilliantly integrated and kept to a minimum, which maximizes the overall verisimilitude of the film. Alex Ebert’s moody and inventive score surrounds the film but never overpowers it, allowing Redford’s remarkable face to do the heavy emotional lifting rather than a cloying soundtrack; it’s the smartest use of music in a film that I can remember. All is Lost is a tour de force for all involved, a work that’s interested in pushing boundaries and expectations, and is clearly the closest we will get to pure, existential filmmaking in the current Hollywood landscape. This was my #1 film from 2013, and while that year was tremendous overall, this is the one that I feel truly changed the game (The Counselor is a VERY close #2). Magnificent, minimalist, profound, and ultimately masterful, Chandor has fast become one of the premiere young talents working today.