In Hazard

-all-is-lost

In Telluride, I had two contrasting experiences of Robert Redford — one was seeing him in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour programmed by Pierre Rissient — the barely-formed Redford on display was subtly out-of-whack, not yet blandly handsome, but actually odd-looking, with tiny slitty eyes — but he gave an excellent performance — the other encounter was actually brushing shoulders with the Great Man himself at a brunch in the mountains. Suddenly seeing him up close was startling — the distractingly youthful hair and the post-handsome famous heaped incongruously underneath it.

But in ALL IS LOST, the oddities of Redford’s appearance totally work, and he looks spectacular, rugged and rumpled and defiant. He’s the only actor onscreen apart from one stray body part I shouldn’t spoil for you, he’s the only voice we hear apart from a very brief snatch of radio talk in a foreign language and a song in the end credits, but he barely speaks during the whole movie — I guess about a dozen words, max. He doesn’t even have a character name: the credits, which are full of quirky details and worth staying for, helpfully let us know that he’s called “Our Man.”

Our Man is on a yacht somewhere off Sumatra (odd, how you spend ages not hearing about Sumatra and then two references come along in 24hrs — Mark Gatiss’s episode of Sherlock the previous night referenced The Giant Rat of Sumatra, that favourite unwritten Holmes adventure) which gets punctured by a huge floating metal container full of sneakers (oddly, the title of a 1992 Redford film). The rest of the film is Our Man fighting leaks, electrical short-outs, inclement weather (forgive the understatement) and possibly an angry God. By being so minimalist — J.C. Chandor, who made the acclaimed MARGIN CALL, doesn’t even use music for the first long chunk of the action — the movie positively invites allegorical readings of this kind, but smartly holds off on tips which might lead us one way or another. Is Our Man a symbol of America, masculinity, mankind — is the film about mortality, and is ALL really LOST?

all-is-lost-robert-redford

The Arri Alexa Raw is unforgiving at close range and we become intimate with every crack and blemish in the ancient mariner’s once blank and beamish face — and that landscape, nudged around from within by the subtle thoughts and concerns animating the actor’s mind, becomes an engrossing spectacle as fascinating as the blue depths full of gleaming fish that arc beneath his ruptured vessel.

Just as the debate around AMERICAN HUSTLE and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET takes the unproductive form of “Which is the better Scorsese film, the one by Scorsese or the other one?”, ALL IS LOST gets paired with GRAVITY, and different people find each film more thrilling. I was definitely more excited by the thrill-ride of GRAVITY, but I did get a visceral, tactile response to ALL IS LOST (the film sports plenty of visual effects, which I couldn’t tell from reality, but there’s plenty of real ocean too — whereas essentially nothing in GRAVITY is photographically real except the actors’ faces, and there’s room for doubt with those) — as the storm whipped up, I felt the need to put on the jumper I’d just taken off because I was too warm. Now, it could be that some wily cinema manager has the air conditioning timed to the film’s plotline, but I prefer the more psychological explanation in this case — and that Skywalker sound, with every raindrop distinct, really does get under your skin.

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10 Responses to “In Hazard”

  1. This is one I’ve been looking forward to seeing (which requires, however, leaving the house, and it’s currently 4 below zero). I love learning that there’s not even music for a long portion.

    (Your mention of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode reminds me of something off-topic: over the holidays we saw an episode of Route 66 from 1962 that stars Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney, and Boris Karloff (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0690468/). It’s very strange: they’re gathering at a hotel to decide whether the old ways of scaring still work, or a new horror approach needs to be created. A secretarial convention offers a convenient test audience. Lorre looks old and tired, but Karloff looks elegant always and Chaney seems to clearly be having fun.)

  2. It’s OK, and Redford is terrific, but that “ocean water” is AWFULLY CLEAN.

  3. Hmm. I wonder if, when you’re that far from land, the water is less brackish and full of bits. It didn’t bother me — and we do see it make RR sick when he swallows a bunch of it.

  4. David Boxwell Says:

    I like the Native American silver turquoise ring he wears all the time in the movie. “Our Man” owned a huge third home in Santa Fe back in the 90s, but he lost it in an ugly divorce from his fourth, “trophy” wife. He was totally into the whole “Southwestern” lifestyle when he had cashed out from his brokerage and tried to please a 45 year-younger wife who was totally New Age, but all he had left at the end was the boat. The kids from his first and second wives just fucking hated him by the end.

  5. Interesting to read his onscreen character and his last testament VO in that light!

  6. I thought this was a terrific adventure film. As for the comparison with GRAVITY, I thought ALL IS LOST proved that you really don’t need a melodramatic backstory to create identification or narrative (or allegorical) tension. I’d say that it’s also a kind of silent film, but while it didn’t have much in the way of spoken words, it sure used ambient sound effectively.

  7. One thing I need to know before deciding to see it – Will it make me feel seasick? I missed half of Beasts of the Southern Wild (had to close my eyes) and still haven’t dared see Life of Pi. Please advise.

  8. David Boxwell Says:

    Lots of hand-held camera along with ocean motion, so sit as far back from the screen as you can. I didn’t feel good afterwards, but that’s all part of the immersive experience.

  9. Hannah Robinson Says:

    I know the movie’s effective – it will certainly make you seasick Judydean – but isn’t it a bit tedious knowing pretty much exactly what’s going to happen? Whatever Our Man tries, you constantly know it isn’t going to work. I deliberately hadn’t read any reviews or watched any trailers but the flashforward at the beginning rather undermined the whole thing for me. Only the fact that Maersk’s PR team seem to be impressively active at the moment came as a surprise. Do you think that stray limb belonged to Tom Hanks?

  10. Handheld camera is actually your best defense AGAINST seasickness — if the camera is anchored to the boat, the swaying horizon will make you nauseous. All of Jaws was shot handheld once they’re at sea, with the operator counteracting the swell of the tide to create stability. This isn’t as smooth as that — they’re trying to simulate storms some of the time, but it’s likely to be less troublesome to the inner ear than the average Von Trier flick.

    The stray limb could be Hanks, or it could be Streisand.

    I don’t think knowing what will happen is automatically a problem — the title would do it even if we didn’t have the VO. We watch drama more to see HOW things unfold. The only time a flashforward like that bothered me was the Clint Eastwood movie Perfect World, where we were given a very specific set of elements — fluttering money and so on — and this led me to anticipate the ending as soon as these elements started to show up. But when we re-see something, or see an adaptation of a well-known story, spoilers are meaningless. We somehow get sucked into the unfolding narrative despite our foreknowledge.

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