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'All is Lost' review: An ocean of metaphor

*** (out of four)

Closing out Survival Month at the Movies (“Gravity,” “Captain Phillips,” “12 Years a Slave”), “All is Lost” presents the gravity of being Captain Redford for eight days. No, that isn’t the name of the unidentified sailor (Robert Redford) whose boat is violently poked by a shipping container 1,700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits. (Of course I knew that was in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Who told you I was awful at geography?) He’s everyone—a sole representative for human existence, fighting the odds and seeing that it’s not over until it’s over.

At least, that’s my take. Writer/director J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call”) wisely refrains from awkward backstory or forced emotion (looking at you, “Gravity”), so it’s merely an interpretation to say that the man’s wedding ring and boat (named “Virginia Jean”) suggest that he has set off alone, testing his limits or running away, after the loss of his wife. The opening scene features a voiceover of the man reading what he intends as his last words, the inevitable regrets of a person dying in unforeseen circumstances.

Needless to say, these are extreme conditions. If going on a dangerous solo journey, amends probably are best handled in advance.  Redford’s lone seaman is a man of few words, at least in terms of not exclaiming, “Oh, [bleep]” or something when turning to his right and seeing a bitch of a storm a-brewin’. Rarely does he verbalize his feelings, and Redford capably holds attention in a nearly wordless film likely to garner him an Oscar nomination—because that’s often the case with isolated acting jobs like this. (I was less taken with “Life of Pi” and more impressed by James Franco in “127 Hours,” FYI.)

With minimal information and multiple near-devastations, “All is Lost” sometimes conveys a sense of “What else can go horribly wrong?” or that it contains valuable info should viewers ever find themselves in a similar situation. (Here’s hoping they don’t.) Others will see the continual destruction and resurrection of a life through the experience of a tormented traveler who, among other things, displays the value of lip balm. Never hurts to have just in case. 

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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