All Is Lost ★★★★

J.C. Chandor's "All is Lost" is a remarkable cinematic exercise. With only a single character, no true dialogue, and the simplest of plots, the film is a successful attempt to tell a traditional and accessible story in manner that eschews traditional and accessible storytelling conventions.

"All is Lost" is a spare and naturalistic fable that follows its only character on a journey of survival. Built on this simple and straightforward foundation, the film's audience spends nearly 100 minutes as Robert Redford's protagonist tries to will his sail boat to safety in the Indian ocean. Redford's Our Man is alone. His vessel, the Virginia Jean, is wounded. All is lost.

Or is it? Regardless, it is this question that powers the film's drama and tension.

Chandor's film does so much with so little. With no spoken expostion, Redford is able to communicate the fear, exhaustion, and triumphs of his character with tiny but powerful expressions on his handsomely weathered face. It is a deceptively simple performance, and one that is immediate, restrained, and full of gravity.

Our Man's plight is harrowing and tense. Chandor deftly captures both the claustrophobia and agoraphobia of the situation through Redford's performance and the film's crisp editing and streamlined shot selection. Without dialogue or other characters to propel the film, "All is Lost" is at the mercy of its own internal ebb and flow. Fortunately, the mix of quiet moments with propulsive beats works well, and the audience is allowed to catch its collective breath when "All is Lost" slows down.

An experiment in simplicity and character, "All is Lost" is a sometimes thrilling, always engrossing, story of man versus nature. Told with weathered hands and weary expressions, the film is an effective, thought-provoking drama that never allows itself to get bogged down with flashbacks, flashforwards, or typical exposition. It is a refreshing and exhilarating piece of cinema.

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