All Is Lost came and went quickly in movie theaters, much like some of the waves that it demonstrates in the various preview footage floating around online. The few people that apparently did see it loved the performance of its star, which immediately made me ask myself what may have been wrong with it. As it turns out, there is little to fret about in All Is Lost, perhaps other than a desire to watch the movie again as it seems to stay with those who see it.
The film is written and directed by J.C. Chandor, the follow-up to his praised 2011 debut film Margin Call. All Is Lost sets the stage early, putting us 1,700 nautical miles from the Sumatran Straits in the Indian Ocean. A shipping container has collided with the Virginia Jean, a 39-foot ship that is taken on a journey by one man. That man is nameless (known simply as "Our Man" to the viewer and in the credits) but is portrayed by Robert Redford. Redford is no stranger to films where a protagonist goes out into nature in search of some form of silence, playing the title role in Jeremiah Johnson. However, that film was more than four decades ago and Redford, now in his ‘70s, may be taking this journey for other reasons. We watch him fix the damage to the boat's hull, but we also watch as Our Man eventually is stripped of this and other resources and is forced to eventually confront the possibility that he may not survive these increasingly insurmountable circumstances.
One may find what transpires in All Is Lost to be difficult viewing primarily because of what occurs in it. The film strips away much of the convenience that someone would enjoy to perform in such a movie. Tom Hanks had a volleyball to play off of in Cast Away, and the interactions with said object were comedic and occasionally emotional yet temporary, primarily composing its second act. The viewer gets none of this in All Is Lost; the opening scenes of the film where Our Man reads a monologue which serves almost like a goodbye letter comprise virtually all of the words in the story. Maybe Chandor perhaps infers that a 70-year old man interacting with inanimate objects is a foolish proposition, which I would agree with.
Thus, we get to see Redford rely on his own devices as an actor, and in his tasks and mannerisms is where we find much of our base in the film. The film is intensely demanding emotionally and physically, which had to have taken a toll on the 77-year old, and Chandor shot much of the film as realistically as possible to help in the process. We see Redford taking steps to keep moving forward with the boat until…well…there is no longer a boat. The façade Redford shows, first of inconvenience at the shipping container collision, eventually gets worn down by the unlucky events that accompany him, and we increasingly get looks into his soul as he wonders how he will make it out of this alive. To see this gradual diminishment play out in his performance is mesmerizing to watch.
The performance and Redford's willingness to allow himself to do most of the things that happen to him onscreen is a testament to the trust he placed in Chandor's story and direction. In only his second film Chandor seemingly goes in the opposite direction from a story perspective and his deconstruction of the story to its barest elements is bold and works. Through his direction the viewer's ride with Redford is harrowing and brutal, and each turn (along with Our Man's response to it) makes us confront our mortality to a degree much as Our Man does with his own. Redford's performance is excellent, but Chandor's decisions are a surprisingly solid and confident foundation to jump off from.
While the premise of All Is Lost may be tough to digest, I believe the viewer will be rewarded with an experience that is like few have encountered, with a performance from a Hollywood icon who (to paraphrase the title of the Richard Pryor documentary "Ain't Dead Yet") delivers arguably one of his best. Working in collaboration with who may be the best young director on the market today, All Is Lost is engrossing and powerful, and regardless of its awards season omission, should be mentioned in the same breath with 2013's best movies.
Lionsgate gives All Is Lost an AVC-encoded 2.40:1 high-definition transfer and the results are excellent. Film grain is present though much of the experience, and image detail is sharp throughout, whether it is beading of water on various surfaces of the boat and raft, or it the crags and wrinkles of Redford's face. Frank DeMarco worked with Chandor on Margin Call and shot (all?) of the scenes above the water, but Peter Zuccarini shot what happened under water and scenes throughout are clean. Colors and sun glare are natural looking without saturation or pushing issues, and there is little DNR or haloing to distract. It looks excellent.
Given to the trusted hands of Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns (the latter of whom is a multiple Oscar winner and longtime figure at Skywalker Sound), the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is an early clubhouse leader for best one I've heard this year. Dialogue is sparse but action within the six channels is frequent throughout. The immersive nature of it starts early with the container's collision and subsequent flooding of the boat's cabin, with channel panning from the water rushing from front to back. When the storm occurs, the booming thunder announces the intentions of the subwoofer and the boat's turning and rolling puts you in the boat with Our Man as it is ample in all channels during the harrowing moments. In softer moments, Alex Ebert's Golden Globe-winning score is clear sounding and helps round out the emotions the viewer may be experiencing. The film's only Oscar nomination was for Sound Editing and it is clear to see why.
Chandor along with two of his producers (Nate Dodson and Anna Gerb) team up for a commentary on the film that is generally active and has some good production information on it. They discuss some of the excised film and musical choices from the final cut, about 20 minutes' worth, and talk about what was shot in an indoor tank or an outdoor door or on the ocean itself. Some trivia about some of the elements in the film and an Easter Egg from Margin Call are spotted, along with the practically shot footage from the CG enhanced stuff. Intent on some things like given scenes or editorial ideas are recounted, and some happy accidents the production encountered (like a couple of the fish scenes). A worthwhile track only enhances the film experience. Following that are several short featurettes on the production, starting with "The Story" (3:45), which covers the thoughts on same from the major players about it and its intent. "The Filmmaker" (3:17) illustrates how Chandor was drawn to the story and thoughts from the crew about him as a director and his process. "The Actor" (4:25) covers Our Man and general opinions of him. "The Sound of All Is Lost" (11:59) is the meatiest portion both in length and in substance as the sound design and intent is explained, and what elements were used to make it. The film's scenes are illustrated with the various sound components were incorporated into it, and working with things such as Foley and ADR portions are recounted as well. It is an interesting look at the film, at sound in general and why the sound designers liked to work on the production. "Big Film, Small Film" (6:11) are thoughts on the production in general and shooting in and under water, and the intent on making it as practical as possible is touched upon, along with the crew's approach to it. "Preparing for the Storm" (7:58) includes the crew talking about said event, blending visual effects with the practically shot film and includes some "test footage" which served as a real-life animatic of sorts. In addition, a Ultraviolet copy can be redeemed as part of this package.
I think All Is Lost is not only one of the better films I have seen recently, but there are a few things going on in it that only improve with repeated viewings. Technically, the disc looks and sounds like a beauty, and there is enough from an extra material perspective to only help the case to buy it. Not only do I think you should do, but I think All Is Lost worthy of the DVD Talk Collector Series label.