All Is Lost, dir/wr. J. C. Chandor, st. Robert Redford
You know Chandor's film is going to be a veritable corker from the moment you ear-glimpse the faintest refrain of composer Alex Ebert's score that glides and shimmers like the refracted light off Redford's ocean. By Hollywood standards at least, it's mixed daringly low down in the overall sound design, at first a seemingly deliberate ploy to avoid empathic signposting, then later, as Our Man's chances flicker and dissolve, becoming hallucinatory commensurate with being abandoned by humanity at sea. As Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity proved with considerably more pomp and fanfare, there is an audience on hand willing to engage in high-concept, extended-scened, dialogue-light survival movies, though this film is infinitely more nuanced. Just listen to how high Steven Price's score is mixed in Curarón's film. It's hard to imagine anyone else playing the part of our reluctant sailor. Redford's ever-expressive features have no problem convincing us this is someone who's been through the mill a few times. All that we learn about him is through the way in which he reacts to Chandor's surf-churning plot, and even then, some things are left deliberately ambiguous. What's he doing out in the middle of the open seas anyway? My innate feeling, maybe spurred by Redford's brief opening message-in-a-bottle voiceover, was that he was running away from something. Of course, this being a movie all about survival, juxtaposing man's biological desire to live with the nagging feeling this particular man only wanted to float away with the tide in the first place, presents a deliciously inviting scenario. Things soon go from bad to worse for Our Man, as storms claim first his vessel, then his equipment, before finally his spirit, but interestingly, the classically structured states of tension fall instead of rise, with things becoming more serene as hope ebbs away. It evokes what they say about drowning, a welcoming heaviness of sleep that descends. There was a kind of heroic desperation in Dr. Ryan Stone's atmospheric re-entry in the Soyuz. Here, Our Man's last-ditch attempt to attract the last passing ship that may come to his rescue contains the kind of immeasurably peaceful sadness that the Cinema rarely allows.