Saturday, January 11, 2014

Six Random Thoughts I Had After Watching "All Is Lost"

1. If Robert Redford is nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for sailing solo in All Is Lost (literally -- he plays the only character in the entire film), alongside Nebraska's Bruce Dern and Captain Phillips' Tom Hanks, it will be remarkable on multiple counts. Redford and Dern were costars as romantic rivals in 1974's screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and they are the same age (77), born a mere two months apart. I can't remember another Oscar season when two actors in their 70s were Best Actor contenders. (Meanwhile, if Meryl Streep gets a Best Actress nod for August: Osage County, she'll be another former Redford costar -- in 1985's Out of Africa -- up for one of the two biggest acting prizes.)

2. As for the Tom Hanks connection, though they haven't logged any time together onscreen, Hanks previously received a Best Actor nomination for playing a man lost at sea in the 2000 film Cast Away. In Captain Phillips, he was once again in dire straits on water, sailing around the Horn of Africa, in the same ocean (the Indian Ocean) where Redford was lost in his film. Hanks' title character also worked on the Maersk Alabama, and at one point in Lost, a Maersk cargo ship sailed by Redford's character's raft. Unfortunately, the poor guy was unable to catch the attention of its crew. Finally, both Phillips and Redford's unnamed protagonist crafted farewell letters to the wives they left behind. I'm assuming Redford's letter was to his wife, but I suppose it could have been to his kids, or perhaps even his boyfriend. We knew that little about him. Aside from one well-placed "Fuck!" and a few screams for help, Redford's voice-over reading of the letter was the only dialogue in Lost.

3. I went into the film unsure if I would be able to sit through one hour and 41 minutes of man vs. nature -- again! Hadn't I already been through that before? Deadly water figured prominently in 2013 Oscar contenders Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Impossible, and 2012's Life of Pi, directed by last year's Best Director Ang Lee, and this current Oscar season's Gravity offered similar solo tales of survival. Thankfully, though, it wasn't all struggle, struggle, struggle. Lost director J.C. Chandor included some quiet moments when Redford and the audience got to reflect on his predicament. These were actually my favorite parts of the movie because they provided the emotional beats that usually come in the form of dialogue, not action.

4. If I have one major gripe with the film other than that some of the action sequences were hard to follow (particularly the ones that took place at night and underwater), it's that I didn't know anything about Redford's character -- neither his name nor what he was doing all alone in the ocean. With a less skilled actor manning the ship, that might have been a hindrance to getting involved in the story, but Redford did an excellent job of reeling me into his situation. At a certain point, I found myself not only sympathizing with him, but actually caring about him, too.

It wasn't just about suspense (Will he live or die?) but also a genuine desire to know who this guy was, what he was thinking and who was waiting for him back home, wherever that might have been. This was, in part, a testament to Redford's screen presence and star quality, but it had more to do with those non-action sequences, the ones where Redford was simply eating a meal, shaving (I'm not sure why anyone in such a situation would even think about grooming) or quietly letting the desperation show on his craggy face. I may not have been sure what he was trying to accomplish much of the time, when he was tinkering with equipment or looking at a map (I would truly suck at survival), but when the camera focused on that famous face, so battered and bruised by time, by the sun, by the situation, no words, no explanation was needed.

5. It's interesting that three of this year's Best Actor contenders, Redford, Hanks and 12 Years a Slave's Chiwetel Ejiofor play lost (or stolen) men fighting to get back home. If Sandra Bullock's and George Clooney's roles had been reversed in Gravity, we'd probably have four. And while I'm on the subject of Sandra Bullock in Gravity, Tom Hanks was previously in an onscreen situation similar to hers, too, in 1995's Apollo 13, though he didn't score an Oscar nomination for his efforts.

6. Spoiler alert! And wow, what an ending! It was right up there with some of my favorites of all time (Interiors, The Unbearable Lightness of BeingDangerous Liaisons, Carrington, Leaving Las Vegas, Central Station, About Schmidt). What I liked most about it was the ambiguity. Was Redford swimming toward a bright light or toward the bright light (as dead in the water as he was at the end of Gatsby)? Was that the helping hand of someone who had come to rescue him, or was it the helping hand of God? Those were the questions that prolonged the denouement's hypnotic spell, boosted the value of the rest of the film (without the ending, I probably would regard it as being slightly above average overall), and left me contemplating All Is Lost hours after its only character was found.
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