All is Lost (JC Chandor, 2013)

What's it about? A lone yachtsman (Robert Redford) fights for survival when his boat is damaged far out at sea.

Is it any good? Interesting to compare this survival tale with the similar, but more exalted Gravity. For all its technical innovation, Gravity conformed in many other aspects, relying on dialogue, back-story, special effects and, literally, a dreamy George Clooney to flesh out the slight premise. All is Lost, by contrast, eschews all such devices. There's just an old man at sea on a damaged boat. He hardly speaks, because there's no-one to speak to. We don't know his back-story, because he doesn't tell us. He sleeps, but he's presumably too exhausted to dream. We don't even know his name. We simply have a man on a boat trying not to die. It's a brave move from Chandor, stripping back the survival tale to the bare bones, and reaching for something more existential in the man's battle with nature. And, blow me down if he doesn't manage to pull it off. For 100 minutes, we live this man's struggle, feeling every creak, every wave, every ominous rumble of thunder as we contemplate his fate, and perhaps consider how we might cope in similar circumstances. It's also a smart move to entice Robert Redford into playing the lead. Redford has an undeniable movie star charisma and has aged gracefully in a suitably weather-beaten manner. But the man is now 77 years old, and seeing him clamber about a slippy deck and dangle from ropes in performing most of his own stunts, is really quite alarming - like watching a kindly old grandparent tackling something he really shouldn't be doing. It pays off, though, because the tension is remarkably well sustained. Only at the end does it flounder a little, but there's enough ambiguity to let it off the hook. Overall, All is Lost could well be the one which sticks in the mind long after the storm about the more dazzling Gravity dies down. 

I don't trust you. What do others think? The Old Man and the Sea is readily brought to mind by this film, so I contacted my good friend Ernest Hemingway to get his thoughts too. He e-mailed back from his camp on safari. "First I went to sea, for to review a film, one must first live it. It was a good film, because it was an honest film, and that is what war does to a man. There is nothing noble about dying at sea, unless you are young and foolish. Then, it is not only courageous, but graceful, and beautiful. Then I got drunk and shot a lion."

What does the Fonz think? Death of a Sailsman.

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