“All is Lost” is like “Life of Pi” without the tiger. Or like “The Poseidon Adventure” without Shelley Winters. Or Red Buttons. Or Gene Hackman… or anyone, except Robert Redford.
Redford is a nameless sailor on a solo yacht trip on the Indian Ocean. When his thirty-foot boat collides with an abandoned shipping container he must use all his resources to survive.
That’s it. The old man and the sea… and a yacht with a hole in the side. Like “Gravity,” the other recent “adrift in the great yonder” movie, “All is Lost” is an exercise in immersive cinema. Story is secondary to the character’s journey. There is virtually no narrative, just a boiled down man-against-nature plot and a growing sense of desperation as the sailor’s supplies dwindle.
The drama comes from the surroundings, the harsh world recreated by director J.C. Chandor (whose last film “Margin Call” was an overlooked gem). It’s claustrophobic, made doubly intense by watery sound effects and a building feeling of helplessness portrayed on Redford’s face.
The actor is in every frame of the film and although he only speaks a dozen or so lines—many of which are the monosyllabic utterances of distress you’d expect—he manages to create a compelling persona despite the lack of backstory, context or any of the traditional hangers characters get hung on. He is the essence of the film, a man hell bent on survival against increasingly difficult odds.
“All is Lost” is probably more audacious than it is entertaining, but it showcases Chandor’s nimble footed technique and Redford’s effortless star power. Alone and figuratively naked, he holds the screen for the entire 106 minutes, eloquently commenting on the human condition with no words, just action.
“Margin Call,” a new Wall Street drama with an all-star cast including Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons and Demi Moore, deserved a better run at the theatres. Now on DVD and download, this overlooked movie of the beginning of our recent financial crisis has a compelling story and great acting but didn’t find an audience theatrically.
A fictionalized account of what may have happened at Lehman Brothers et al, “Margin Call” is set at a Wall Street firm following a brutal round of layoffs. Using information passed on by one of the outgoings execs an analyst, played by “Star Trek’s” Zachary Quinto, discovers that the firm is wildly overleveraged. Saving the company will affect not only the employees but the entire economy of the United States.
The way I have described it would sound melodramatic if it wasn’t bound so closely to fact and that’s the beauty of the movie. It takes complex financial transactions, dramatizes them and presents them in a way that makes sense and shines spotlight on the terrible mess the greed of these Wall Street firms caused.
But without great characters a movie solely about the crisis wouldn’t be necessary in the wake of Inside Job,” the Oscar winning documentary that covered pretty much the same ground.
Luckily “Margin Call” abounds with interesting characters even though doesn’t exactly avoid the stereotypical portrayal of Wall Street types—there is the de rigueur associate obsessed with his colleague’s pay cheques, the over indulgent CEOs. But despite its occasional typecasting, actors like Spacey, Tucci and Simon Baker imbue their characters with humanity, creating multi-layered people concerned with the ethics of what they are doing.
Perhaps “Margin Call” flopped because people don’t want to be reminded of the financial meltdown that left tens-of-thousands of Americans stuck with sub prime mortgages and made foreclosure signs the hottest landscaping feature of the 2008-2009 season. Perhaps it was because the star wattage of Stanley Tucci and Kevin Spacey wasn’t enough to put bums in seats. Whatever the reason, “Margin Call” remains a gem that will hopefully find its audience on the small screen.