All is Lost

Watched a very good movie last night. All is Lost stars Robert Redford – he’s the only character in the film – as a lone sailor in the Indian ocean who has a calamitous accident from which he struggles to survive.

It reminded me of Gravity. Both are movies where the protagonists, far from home and effectively alone, encounter disaster which they must fight to overcome. I have to say that I think All is Lost, much less heralded than Gravity, is the better movie.

As much as the similarities where on display last night, so too were the differences. Gravity, set in space, has much the more glamorous landscape. Gravity is a movie of dramatic, and occasionally unlikely, events. Events overtake the lone sailor in All is Lost also, but in a much quieter, less bombastic, more authentic fashion. Comparing the two Gravity feels like Hollywood, a show put on for us with impressive pyrotechnics, but there never seems much doubt in our mind that it will end up ok.

All is Lost has tumultuous scenes of its own – the rollicking storm, the yacht overturning and mast snapping – but it doesn’t feel like theatre in the same way that Gravity does. These are forces of nature observed and recorded without comment. We’re like voyeurs watching the desperate attempts of a man trying to save himself from a situation that nevertheless becomes progressively more desperate. Where Gravity is polished and eye-catching, All is Lost has a stark, raw truth that reminds the viewer that real life is only ever moments away from calamity.

This impassive observation is underlined by the fact that there are about three lines of monologue in the movie. The rest is the elements at play and the subtle variations of expression on Redford’s craggy face. He’s perfect for the role of a resourceful, determined man battling a fate that seems likely to overwhelm him. Unlike Gravity there is not the certainty that he will survive this. In fact it seems unlikely despite all his efforts – a realisation we see on his face as one ploy after another come to nothing – all is lost, indeed. There is genuine tension in this as there was not in Gravity.

Space was a great character in Gravity; likewise the sea is a mysterious, beautiful and forbidding presence in All is Lost. Cuaron got all the plaudits for Gravity, but to my way of thinking All is Lost was a much more difficult movie to make, and yet it was done with great artistry (dir. Chandor – one to watch).

For me the relative fates of these two movies say a lot about Hollywood and the film industry. Gravity had George Clooney, a compelling story-line, whiz-bang FX, and great PR. All is Lost is a smaller movie in every way, visceral more than spectacular, but no less compelling – in fact, a better movie in my reckoning. Size counts though, Gravity went on to be one of the most talked about movies of the year while All is Lost barely made a splash.

Sometimes you have to look to find the good stuff. This was very good.

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