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(2013) (Robert Redford) (PG-13)

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Drama/Suspense: A sailor, 1700 miles from land and traveling alone, must contend with having his sailboat accidentally damaged to the point that he might have to abandon ship.
A never identified sailor (ROBERT REDFORD) is on a solo sailing trip, some 1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits. One morning, he's awakened by a loud thump, only to find water pouring into his cabin from a gaping hole in the side of the 40-foot sailboat. It turns out a large cargo container has floated up and accidentally rammed his ship. The sailor manages to dislodge that after some effort and roughly patch the hole, but his communication gear has become water-logged and he's unable to send out a distress call.

And not being in the shipping lanes, it's unlikely his relatively small sailboat will be seen by another vessel. That puts him in danger as a storm approaches, threatening the stability of his temporary fix, all of which means he may have to abandon ship into his inflatable life raft. With limited provisions, he must use his sailing know-how and related ingenuity to give himself any chance of surviving.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
Back in 1952, literary giant Ernest Hemingway published his last major work to come out in print before his death nearly a decade later. It was the Pulitzer Prize winning "The Old Man and the Sea," a tale featuring a down on his luck fisherman who ends up battling a large marlin by himself out in the Gulf Stream where both the fish and fisherman extract a toll on one another. Several years later, Spencer Tracy played the aged angler in the 1958 movie of the same name that earned him an Oscar nomination for his work.

Now, more than half a century later, along comes a new film that easily could have gone by that same title, despite not being based on Hemmingway's work and having very little to do with fishing. And that's because 77-year-old Robert Redford and the "slightly" older Indian Ocean are the only two characters in "All is Lost," writer/director J. C. Chandor's follow-up to his acclaimed "Margin Call."

In it, Redford plays an unnamed sailor who's solo navigating the seas some 1700 nautical miles from Sumatra when a rogue cargo container bashes into his 40-some foot sailboat and punches a hole in the side. From that point on, he must contend with said nautical vessel taking on water, and losing his communication gear to water infiltration. There's also the possibility of possibly having to abandon ship in favor of a small inflatable life raft, and the prospect of eventually running out of food and water, all while essentially being the seagoing equivalent of the old needle in a haystack in terms of being discovered and rescued.

Thus it's up to him to save himself, and it's up to Redford to carry the film in which no other humans are around, no flashbacks are present to show life back home, and maybe a grand total of one page of dialogue exists. Yep, it's a one-man show in what's sort of a silent film, save for extremely rare bits of dialogue, a scant score and various sound effects.

Word is that Chandor's shooting script was only around 30 pages long (compared to the usual average of one page of script for every minute of final run-time) and thus it's impressive that the filmmaker is able to hold the viewer's attention for the 100 or so minutes across which the story transpires. And that's without the awe-inspiring special effects of "Gravity" (where Sandra Bullock's character eventually ends up alone while stranded in outer space) or last year's "Life of Pi" (where Suraj Sharma's protagonist got to interact with a "real" tiger on his lifeboat, while flashbacks and present day interludes broke up the "stranded at sea" storyline).

Here, it's just Redford reacting to one dire circumstance after another (and obstacles to overcoming them), and considering he does so without any interaction with others and with barely any dialogue shows the veteran performer still has the goods in terms of pulling audiences into his characters and their plight. Looking and acting the part with full ease, and basically acting mainly through his eyes, expressions, body language and other physicality, Redford should easily earn just his second Best Actor nomination (the first being for "The Sting") and possibly a win considering the overall scale of difficulty of carrying an entire picture on just his shoulders.

What's also remarkable is that neither Redford nor Chandor let us know any sort of back-story regarding the character. We don't know why he's sailing alone, if there's anyone waiting for him back home, or even if there is a home somewhere beyond his sailboat, the Virginia Jean. There is a final farewell note (heard in voice over at the very beginning of the film before it quickly rewinds to eight days earlier) but we don't know who it's addressed to.

I sort of like the notion that it's just a blanket statement to the world, Mother Nature, God or what have you that he existed and tried to do his best. There's plenty of existential undercurrents -- namely man's struggle for survival and the notion of man's true individual insignificance when compared to the vastness of Earth and the Universe -- flowing just beneath the surface here to keep things interesting.

Thankfully and wisely on the filmmaker's part, the film never gets heavy in such regards and some viewers might not notice or sense those themes until sometime after the film has concluded. It certainly ends on an intriguing note that could be interpreted in a variety of ways, probably best suited for the viewer to ponder and ultimately determine based on their place in the world. What few will miss, though, is Redford's amazing, nuanced and heartbreaking but never showy performance, arguably his best in his very long and varied career. Amazing for that as well as what it's able to pull off in terms of its built-in limitations, "All is Lost" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 19, 2013 / Posted October 25, 2013

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