Do you like your movies with dialogue, multiple characters, complex story lines -- you know, stuff? Or can a film without the benefit of such things fill your sails?
J.C. Chandor's second film, "All Is Lost," starring Robert Redford, is typically characterized by what it isn't. There's little in the way of backstory. There's only one character. And he generally doesn't talk.
There is a man at sea, an old man. And that is about it. Hemingway's tale is a garish soap opera by comparison.
We know little about our unnamed man (Redford). We're informed that he's 1,700 nautical miles from Indonesia's Sumatra Straits. In the opening, he reads in voice-over a letter in which he, down to half a day's ration, pens a farewell and an apology for some unspecified failing in his now decidedly precarious life.
"I tried," he says. "I think you will all agree that I tried."
The film then properly begins eight days earlier, when our man awakes to find that, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a floating cargo ship container has lodged itself in the hull of his 39-foot yacht. It leaves a gaping hole that, aside from threatening to sink him, has destroyed all the ship's radios and electronics.
The film proceeds to depict, in rigorous detail, his step-by-step attempts to fix the hole, weather a hellacious storm and, quite basically, survive. The will to survive has been a subject of countless films, but it has here been stripped to the barest of existential essentials: A man might die and this is how he, one small solution at a time, tries not to.
The story's minimalism is contrasted by the maximum presence of its star. Redford has always been an actor capable of doing a lot with few and slight gestures, which makes "All Is Lost" a beautiful and noble capstone.
Here is, at 77, one of the most charismatic performers in movie history working with both hands tied behind his back. An everyman, to the last.
So is there enough here? Chandor has slimmed down the story so much that one hungers for a few more layers. But if "All Is Lost" can feel underwhelming, it also resonates upon reflection. The movie's unadorned, unsentimental imagery lodges within as a stark symbol of striving.
"All Is Lost" (three stars)
A minimalist tale of one man adrift at sea, trying to survive with low rations and a yacht with a hole in it. The charismatic and capable Robert Redford, at 77, is up to the task of carrying the story.
Rated: PG-13 for language.
Showing: Seven Gables.
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