Add to that his age, which is a whole texture in itself, particularly in a story where the open sea serves as a metaphor for life. Nature weathers things, and this man is weathered. Nature doesn't give us a choice to be pulled up into its forces, it simply pulls or gives rest at its own indiscriminate whims, whether we're prepared or not. And on top of all that, we don't have to wait for Redford to prove himself as an actor who can carry the weight of an entire movie. He's already done that many times, so we go with him from the start. And once again, Redford proves himself worthy of that faith.

That faith in Redford is what sustains a movie that largely just observes for the first hour. The Man does not immediately descend into fear or worry. He keeps it all at bay through a steady intellect, and so we follow him through that steadiness. There is no time for embittered cries when you're trying to repair a hull breach. There's no time for philosophical musings (or talking to a volleyball) when you're trying to navigate the treacherous waters of the Indian Ocean toward commercial shipping lanes. The Man's MacGyver-esque improvisations are gripping enough on their own, as is his innate humanity. And writer/director J.C. Chandor – who, ironically, was Oscar-nominated for his rather wordy script Margin Call – taps into the Man's humanity not through quick verbal clarity but patient and collective visual revelation (which includes some impressively mounted and rather harrowing sequences). Circumstances reveal character; they reveal the Man.

Then in the second half, the cracks begin to form. The spirit begins to break. Despite heroic efforts, the Man remains lost. Adrift. Seemingly the butt of a cruel cosmic joke. And that's when the crisis goes from the physical to the existential. This man's crisis initially evoked our sympathy, but now it also evokes our empathy. We've gone from rooting for him to identifying with him. Identifying with that dark night of the soul. Identifying with the eternal question of "Why?" that he never has to ask or even meditate on because his defeat and despair so wholly personify it.

As All is Lost approaches the end, it's natural to anxiously wonder what that ending will be. Will Man be rescued or will he perish? Will he fight to the end or will he give up while he still has strength and breath? And will that end make all of what we've sat through worthwhile? While I won't reveal the ending here, I will say that it works as a poetic final beat because it can be taken literally or spiritually, or even both.

 CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Some whiskey is consumed.
  • Language/Profanity: A couple of S-words. One F-word is screamed.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: None.
  • Violence/Other: The man’s hand is gashed pretty badly. Trauma related to enduring a violent storm at sea. In general, the theme of a man’s life being in danger, helpless. 

Publication date: October 24, 2013