Redford's soulful performance and Gilliam's underappreciated classic
“All is Lost,” a stranded-at-sea survival story with almost no dialogue and a soulful lead performance from 77-year-old Robert Redford, may suffer the most from bad timing.
In the wake of Alfonso Cuaron’s cinematic tour de force “Gravity,” which puts Sandra Bullock in a similar situation — only in deep space — it’s difficult not to view “All is Lost” through a similar prism. The approach is similar, but “All is Lost” jettisons Cuaron’s thrilling first-person perspective in favor of a lower-budget, more traditional visual style and leaves most of Our Man’s backstory to the imagination.
Yes, it’s capitalized for a reason. Our Man is how Redford is listed in the credits, and it applies not only to his status in the movie as our hero, but Redford’s stature as an American icon. Director J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call”) knows this, so when Our Man finds himself on a yacht with no working communications and a hole in its side somewhere in the Indian Ocean, we immediately begin rooting for him.
View it as a metaphor or not, but the event that starts his terrifying ordeal is when an abandoned shipping container full of kids sneakers pierces the ship’s hull, sending water rushing in. It happens while Our Man is sleeping.
“All is Lost,” opening Friday at Liberty Hall, also brings to mind “Jeremiah Johnson,” the 1972 western where Redford plays a war veteran who makes a decision to become a hermit and live off the land in virtual isolation. Our Man seems to have made a similar decision, although we are not sure how long his sabbatical was supposed to last. He obviously has money, he wears a wedding ring, and he has people that care about him somewhere.
Chandor maintains two important threads throughout the picture. There’s the cause and effect: Our Man uses a combination of intelligence, intuition, and endurance to survive as he is tested by Mother Nature. Without dialogue, the film establishes the stakes for each harrowing situation and conjures up suspense. When the action slows down, it is impressive how well Chandor illustrates Our Man’s thought process moving forward.
The key ingredient to the film’s success, however, is Redford’s vulnerability. He’s trying so desperately to stay alive that he has few moments for reflection, but they register — and all without the aid of dialogue. Ultimately he must face the question of his own mortality. Since we only have a couple of clues about Our Man’s existence before the wreck, we read what we need from two things: his actions and Redford’s face. It’s that craggy, handsome, determined, wounded, uniquely American face that gives the film its soul.
Christian Bale emanates a grizzled empathy, Woody Harrelson is at his menacing best and Casey Affleck brings to mind the stubborn frailty of Frank Sinatra in his Oscar-winning performance from “From Here to Eternity,” but the Rust Belt crime drama “Out of the Furnace” is too earnest and painfully obvious for its own good.
Bale and Affleck are brothers in an economically depressed steel-working Pennsylvania town who choose different paths to make their way. Each of them brings much-needed color to the well-worn clichés of the ex-con and war veteran trying to make good in tough times, but director Scott Cooper musters zero surprises in a script that takes too long establishing a tired premise and plays it out in grimy, dull fashion.
If you like your comedy black, no sugar (and I do), then the Christmas-set Orwellian nightmare “Brazil” — making a rare nighttime appearance during Liberty Hall’s Film Church series at 7 p.m Dec. 15. — is your cup.
Archibald Buttle is mistaken for Archibald Tuttle when a dead fly falls into a typewriter and causes a key to type the wrong letter. The wrong man is then tortured and executed by the State, and his family is offered receipts for their trouble in writer/director Terry Gilliam’s under-appreciated 1985 masterpiece “Brazil.”
Office drone and part-time dreamer Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) decides to do a good deed at Christmas time, so he drives out to the devastated family’s house to present them with their refund check. It was merely a governmental mistake, you see.
That is just the beginning of a disturbing, hilarious movie that revels in counterpointing fake Christmas cheer with absolute misery. The bulk of “Brazil” takes place during the holiday season, and there’s no shortage of anti-consumerism parody and snarky heartlessness to go with some of the characters’ false Christmas sentiment. Did I mention it’s also really funny? Don’t miss your chance to see this classic on the big screen.