All is Lost but What Does it Mean?

All is Lost

Are filmmakers trying to tell us something important?  Here in 2013, is another film, this one from J. C. Chandor (who helmed the uber-relevant Margin Call), that when boiled down to its marrow (and trust me, this is one of the most boiled down films of recent memory) is essentially a “One Person Survival Tale Against All Odds.”  As if Cuaron’s epic cosmic odyssey of survival and rebirth in Gravity wasn’t enough…or we weren’t sufficiently bored by Captain Phillips (seriously, what was the point of that film other than for Tom Hanks to break down and cry for an Oscar again?)…or Solomon Northup’s harrowing true life story in 12 Years a Slave wasn’t adequately profound…here comes the minimalist to the point of banality All is Lost.  Is this trend (whose current incarnation actually stretches back to 2012 with The Grey and Life of Pi on opposite ends of the survivalist spectrum), which has admittedly seen some amazing highs, lending itself to some poignant commentary on the state of the world today?  Or is it all just a bunch of pseudo-philosophical-political-societal-mirror-holding hogwash, some of which has been better packaged than others?  And to be fair, though a survival tale, the historical and essential 12 Years a Slave should not be to be held to this type of reductionist dialogue like the others following this trend.

Robert Redford (looking old as heck and with oddly colored almost orange hair) plays the nameless “Our Man” – a loner, presented to us with next to no context, inexplicably out there somewhere in the Indian Ocean, who through a string of bad boating luck finds himself fighting for his life against the great big wide ocean.  J. C. Chandor’s direction is sparsely poetic, and he’s created somewhat of a miraculous cinematic oddity here.  I’ve never in my life been more mesmerized and bored simultaneously.  Continue reading

The Blues and The Grey

Shit...just when Liam Neeson thought things couldn't get any worse...he crash lands into the den of Sarah Palin's Alaska.

Man, Liam Neeson has the blues something fierce.  The poor guy has completed one of the oddest transitions of recent memory by going from Oskar Schindler to “Total Bad Ass” in films both criminally overrated (Taken) and glumly forgettable (Unknown).  Now in Joe Carnahan’s transcendent survivalist thriller, The Grey, Neeson plays a man named Ottway who is reeling from the kind of blues that lead men to self-inflicted gun shot wounds to the head.  The film opens grimly enough with Ottway working on an oil refinery as a wolf sniper in the remote Alaskan wilderness amongst men “not fit for civilization.”  He waxes mournfully in voice-over about being separated from his wife (presented to the audience in smartly lit, intimate Nolan-esque slivers of memory) and working “a job at the end of the world.” 

One night he walks out from the rowdy violence of the camp bar into the snow to blow his brains out – but then he hears the ghostly howl of those beasts he’s been paid to study and control.  He can’t help but wonder if maybe he belongs out there – like the wolves – a stalker – a survivor.  He posits himself as much against Mother Nature as he is against his own nature.  These opening moments offer the viewer the type of emotional and philosophical trappings not usually found in your typical Hollywood product – especially thrillers of this sort.  With the help of his resurrected from the doldrums director, Carnahan (who finally fulfills the promise he showed in Narc after years of wallowing in the mediocrity of La La Land), Neeson completes his evolution as an actor through Ottway.  Here we finally have a character who marries the gravity of an Oskar Schindler with the gruff bad-assery of Neeson’s more recent commercial incarnations. 

Of course the bulk the of the film concerns Ottway and his motley crew of cohorts surviving a horrific airplane crash on their way to Anchorage only to be stalked through the frozen wilderness by a pack of ravaging and unmerciful wolves.  But it returns from time to time to those small moments and to the epic human pondering on live and death.  Continue reading