In the same week last year my friend Dave and I went to a pair of movies that sent us reeling.
First there was Gravity about bouncing around in space. It was great fun and the theatre was packed.
And a couple of days later another gem about isolation and danger: All is Lost ( (Sat, 1.30 AM, Sky Movies). This was attended by about four people and a dolphin who were either Robert Redford fans or knew a thing or two about sailing. Everyone was riveted to the screen.
It is a gripping, almost wordless story about an old sea salt (Redford) travelling somewhere in his forty foot sailboat either going to someeplace or getting away from somewhere or someone. He is alone and seems pretty damn comfortable with his wave-born lone life.
But then a rogue container smashes his yacht and, well, let’s just say Redford’s smug sailing days nosedives. It’s crisis after crisis, good decision, bad decision, good decision and on and on as the relentless sea pounds his life down to a dribble.
Redford should have received an Oscar or a Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer or even a BAFTA kupie doll for his one man act. But he didn’t, though he was nominated for a Golden Globe best actor award.
Gravity, of course, went on to win a lot of awards. But with Clooney and Bullock as stars, well, it was Hollywood all the way. All is Lost is Hemingway and Golding: how the single force of a human being stacks up when faced with the onslaught of raw nature. There is no good guy, no villain.
Redford, as the unnamed yachtsman with no back story, seems like a good sailor who makes the best decisions he can in an awful situation. He is alone. He only says one sentence in this full length waterlogged movie, a strangled furious shout when things seem darkest. And then it’s visual storyboard all the way as we see him contend with an oceanic disaster as he faces death.
JC Chandor (he did the financial thriller Margin Call) directed the film with only a 32 page script – remember, there is only a single sentence uttered in the movie. Otherwise, it is pure action.
And, as for the wet reality of it all, Redford is either a good helmsman himself or such an experienced actor that he seems to know what he is doing as he averts near-death calamity after near-death calamity.
A small note: All is Lost had one actor, one director but eleven exec producers. Hey, you can’t escape Hollywood after all. Even in a sinking boat.