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?
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.