And later, Troy

troyHa ha, this one’s more terrible than I remember, even here in its apparently ‘definitive’ Directors Cut. Its almost as much a farce as Life of Brian, it is so over-sincere in its attempt to make something Shakespearean of the hammy dialogue, wooden acting (and I’m not talking about that horse) and the ‘what-were-they-thinking’ casting which makes some of Oliver Stone’s casting decisions for Alexander look absolutely inspired.

The film was obviously in trouble when the film-makers opted for Hollywood’s usual ‘how do we fix this?’ by ditching the original score by Gabriel Yared, and then hiring James Horner to write a whole-new score, giving him just four weeks. Horner demonstrated his professionalism by somehow writing and recording a serviceable score but its clear he had little time and likely little enthusiasm for the project (I always thought Horner preferred character-based, intimate dramas and wrote better scores for such films). He must have known Troy was in trouble and that his music could never be good enough to fix it in what time he had. The irony that studios think replacement scores can somehow fix broken films when studios otherwise seem to have such little appreciation for film scoring never ceases to amaze me. Yared apparently spent over a year on his score- I heard it years ago on a bootleg and it shows that he was invested in it; it’s quite sophisticated and rather better than Horner’s effort (to be fair to Horner, had he been given a year his score would have been much better too).I would love to watch Troy with Yared’s original score but that will never happen.

To be fair to the film, its clear it was made with the best of intentions and certainly has some obvious ambition; at times it looks quite spectacular but the whole thing is undermined by its fumbling script which has all the beats of the familiar story but saddles them with hokey speeches and one-dimensional characters that leave the actors with nothing to play off. Diane Kruger’s Helen is the weakest point of the film and yet she’s supposed to be its backbone, the narrative drive behind everything that happens- she has no charisma, no character, but its hardly Kruger’s fault. She’s a much better actress than this but even she cannot feign chemistry with the quite vapid Orlando Bloom playing Paris. Brad Pitt’s Achilles makes a game attempt at saving the film (it should have been his film, its clear) but even his frowns and sulks are of insufficient weight to bring the pathos this film needs. I remain quite sympathetic for Eric Bana, he’s the best thing in this quite disastrous film.

Returning to the music score, perhaps the film would have been better served had it been given Eric Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” at the end as we see Troy burning. At least the film might have then been saying something, if only about a better movie.

And now, Agora

agoraLets talk film connections… well, here’s an example of one anyway- having watched Oliver Stone’s Alexander a few nights ago, I followed it up with another film set in the Ancient World- Alejandro Amenabar’s magnificent Agora. The connection is simple enough:  Alexander closes with Ptolemy an old man in the city of Alexandria in 285 BC, a centre of learning with a library that has teased and bewitched historians and academics for centuries regards the treasures it held within. Agora returns us to the Library of Alexandria in 400 AD, or thereabouts, and concerns the destruction of what remains of the library and how it ties into the fate of Hypatia, one of the most famous women of the ancient world who was killed by a Christian mob – perhaps a key event that signalled humanity descending into the Dark Ages. I think its a great film -much better than Alexander, by the way- and am always frustrated by how it seems to have slipped under most peoples radar. I don’t know if its relative obscurity is because its an independent, European film with limited distribution channels (I had to import a French Blu-ray several years ago to see it) or something down to its rather negative viewpoint of religion and early, formative Christianity in particular. I’d urge anyone who gets the opportunity to give Agora a watch.

Regards historical films. Does one judge Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus by its historical accuracy, or by whether its a great story well told? Should one disparage Oliver Stone’s Alexander because of his artistic license regards real events or academic debate, or just take it as a great romantic yarn about a major historical figure? Films are products of their time, and Spartacus is clearly a 1950s film and Alexander clearly a film with modern sensibilities concerned with the tensions between West and East that continue to dominate political discourse. Should any concern regards historical accuracy impact what one thinks of either film? How far can one go with historical accuracy before it lessens the entertainment value or dramatic qualities of a film?

agora2As far as I can tell, Agora is surprisingly accurate regards the events it portrays. Its Alexandria is a city in decline, with the Roman Empire on the wane, its pagan culture and Gods fading away to the steady rise of Christianity. There is a real feeling of change, the close of one era and the beginning of another. The Library of Alexandria has at this point been reduced to what scrolls remain in the Serapeion, a complex part Temple, part University, which is presumably a pale shadow of the Library’s earlier glory. Hypatia (Rachel Weisz) is a philosopher who teaches there and works to make some sense of humanity’s place in the universe- she looks up longingly at the stars, trying to make sense of them, reaching for the perspective that the camera gifts us with our Gods-Eye views of the world (which I’ll come to later). I understand that the film largely exaggerates her intellectual prowess and what she discovers, but in most other respects it seems very fair to her and largely accurate. She feels like a very modern woman, independent, not needing the company or love of a man (rejecting overtures from a student) or feeling it necessary to fulfil the usual tasks of a woman. While not a Christian (the film infers she was, perhaps unsurprisingly as a scientist and philosopher, also an atheist) she had freinds who were Christians, most notably Orestes (Oscar Isaac), the Roman prefect of Egypt whose friendship caused her downfall as it made her a target of Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria who was feuding with Orestes for control of the city.  

I consider Agora a simply magnificent film and one of my favourites of the last twenty years. I think its beautifully well-made, looking absolutely convincing with excellent art direction and wonderful sets, featuring a very good cast, which also includes Max Minghella and Rupert Evans. Rachel Weisz as Hypatia in possibly the actresses finest role. Agora can be seen as a very sobering, even quite depressing film with a rather negative view of humanity, religion and Christianity in particular- moreover, how religion, or especially religion, suffers from very human failings such as intolerance and tribal politics. There is a sense of seeing humanity at its very best, but also at its very worst. I think the film has something to say, and says it very well. There is a real sense of perspective offered by the film, regards our place in the cosmos, our fragility, and how transient and unimportant our human concerns can seem: at certain times the film literally gifts us a Gods-Eye view of events, seeing the Earth from space and in some shots sweeping down from  a global view to gradually close in on the North African shoreline and further down to street level. At other times he camera rises up from scenes, almost reducing people to ants in the landscape. Its an almost revelatory suggestion of time and space and history made tangible, and quite intoxicating.

agora3In 1980 I learned of the Library of Alexandria through Carl Sagan’s Cosmos tv series, when through the magic of miniature effects and video compositing Sagan walked through the halls of the library talking about all the books and essays lost to us forever when it was burned down in the 4th Century AD. Sagan was a great populariser of science but tended to romanticise; the Library of Alexandria he walks through is glorious, huge; just how much of the library was even left by the 4th Century AD when Hypatia lived is open to debate among historians. Sagan cites the library’s destruction as the onset of the Dark Ages, that it lost to us all the works within, but in truth, no written texts from the Ancient world could have possibly survived to the present day even had the library not been sacked and burned. Its a point raised by Oliver Stone in his Alexander commentary that the memoirs that Ptolemy is seen writing about Alexander, telling us his story, did not survive and were lost to antiquity, ensuring that Alexander would remain an enigma to us. Preserving ancient works would have entailed copying them, repeatedly over long centuries and so many generations, over and over, with subsequent danger of embellishment or editing. Books and scrolls were on papyrus, and individually handwritten/copied, not printed. So it was never likely any of those ancient works could have lasted a few centuries (Ptolemy’s memoirs probably being lost before even Hypatia’s day), never mind millennia to the present day; but Sagan was right about the sense of tragic loss and the period of enlightenment shattered by barbarian hordes pulling humanity down into the Dark Ages. That being said, Hypatia of course sees nothing wrong with having slaves, so even that sense of ‘enlightenment’ that Sagan eulogised should be questioned.

 

Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (2004/2007)

alex1…except that it wasn’t really a Final Cut at all, because Oliver Stone followed up with another cut (‘The Ultimate Cut’) a few years later, which was actually little shorter. In all, I think there are four different cuts of this film and only one of them, the theatrical cut, is currently available on Blu-ray here in the UK (I imported this ‘Final Cut‘ several years ago since when its languished on the Shelf of Shame until now). I think the theatrical version was 175 minutes, the Directors Cut several minutes shorter, the Final Cut is the longest version some 45 minutes longer than the theatrical  and the Ultimate Cut several minutes shorter than that- the biggest difference between all the versions (other than additional violence and gore) seems to be the sequencing of scenes and how Stone juxtaposes those sequences within the internal chronology of the film. 

I’m sitting here reconsidering how I started this post and where I’m going with it. Maybe it would be especially apt to revisit this post and post alternate versions, reordering paragraphs, remarshalling my train of thought. Stone himself would possibly appreciate the irony of that. 

It would be especially interesting to sit down with Stone and discuss this film and his experience making it and re-making it. As a movie lover, I think there is something almost endearing about a film-maker’s fascination with a project driving him to rethink himself, and not quite let go of something. I think Oliver Stone didn’t quite succeed in making the Alexander he dreamed of, and his frustrations drove him to return to it, trying to perfect it. It is clearly a passion project, and such films are not always the best films but they can be the most interesting. Sometimes I’d rather watch passion-project failures than formulaic by-the-numbers successes. Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut is quite superior to the theatrical version I saw in the cinema- Stone was under immense pressure to trim the film down to a manageable length and he discusses this in the opening section of his commentary on this disc. Its indicative of the friction between the artist and the businessman, and clearly one of the boons of the home-video market of the past few decades on VHS/DVD and Blu-ray was the opportunity for film-makers to release longer cuts of the films, most of which are superior (but not always). Whether such opportunities will continue in the shift towards streaming is questionable.

I will say I really enjoyed this version of the film. How much of a success the film is, is probably a subject of some debate; there is always a sense of Oliver Stone reaching for something and not quite getting there- some sequences are breath-taking and others feel ill-judged, but you always feel an immense passion behind the film, for good or ill. I recall at the time the film came out in 2004, much criticism of Colin Farrell in the title role, but funnily enough, all these years later it doesn’t seem such a problem at all (how incongruous Kirk Douglas as Spartacus or Richard Burton in his own Alexander film? After awhile does it really matter?). I think Farrell does very well here and his Alexander lingers in the mind afterwards, so does Val Kilmer as his father, King Phillip- perhaps it is something to do with additional scenes or their sequencing in this version: its been so many years since I saw the theatrical cut that I cannot really vouch for any differences between the cuts. Maybe its just a case that Revisited works better, that Stone got the edit right. 

There’s some big names in this film (Angelina Jolie, Jared Leto, Christopher Plummer, Rosario Dawson and Anthony Hopkins) and while its really a European film rather than an old-style Hollywood epic, it does seem something of a throwback to the big epics of the old days with such big names attached. It results in an odd tension within the film, of the old and the new: the incongruity of all those accents and Western actors of various nationalities appropriating Greek characters and the English language and text in scenes in ‘an enlightened, modern film’  feeling wrong: albeit inevitable, while attempting to visually be as authentic as it possibly can the film flounders on the edge of farce. While opening the film to criticism, I guess the old adage “its only a movie” holds so very true, and certainly, one could not expect someone like Oliver Stone to make some dry historical epic; this is Cinema.

To fully understand and ‘know’ such a complex character as Alexander and his achievements, you really need a time machine. In that sense, the real meaning of the film is in its tensions between West and East, in how Alexanders generals feared that Alexander had ‘gone native’ and forgotten his Greek origins, and how that makes Alexander seem to us, unconsciously in his part or not, a very modern individual. That might well be a Western, twentieth-century interpretation that gets it absolutely wrong, but Stone seems to paint a picture of Alexander of a man out of time. He’s us, in the Ancient World. Trying to bring modern sensibilities to it, trying to assimilate West and East. But there is also the sensation that’s just us appropriating Alexander, and one of the complexities of the film that nettles at Stone. Alexander and the Greeks were Pagans, who absolutely believed in their Gods and believed  that there was a limit to their world, physical as well as intellectual, that was a much smaller world than the world we know. We cannot really get into that mindset. Some things are human and universal, but other things are alien and unique: as I have written before, the distant past is as much science fiction as any story of the far-future.

Perhaps oddly, I think my favourite scenes of the film are those featuring Anthony Hopkins’ aged King Ptolemy that pretty much bookend it; Ptolemy’s reminisces of his old friend Alexander, trying to grasp who/what Alexander was or what his achievements meant, so likely mirror Oliver Stone’s struggles, and indeed those of historians for centuries. In some ways its trying to understand the human condition, our mortality and the impermanence of everything we create. Ptolemy in Alexandria of 285 BC, some forty years after Alexander died, is one of the last people to have lived in Alexander’s time and to have known him, so his thoughts would be the most definitive, but of course Alexandria itself would eventually fail, and the memoirs Ptolemy put down for posterity would themselves be eventually lost. In just the same way as Ptolemy’s effort failed, its impossible for Stone’s film to properly define who Alexander was;  all things fade, except Alexander himself, or certainly the myth of him that remains.

alex3Visually the film is quite amazing- I think the battles are gritty and brutal and give us a sense of what it must have been like, and the landscapes are wonderful: I have always been quite enchanted by the film’s representation of Babylon. What an astonishing place; one can understand how Alexander might have been so intoxicated by the East. Imagine a Greek, or anyone from the West, entering Babylon having conquered it and then himself becoming conquered by its unique beauty, its smells, its colours.

I love the Vangelis soundtrack. Like many of his scores, it lives differently within the film, his soundtrack album following his method of being a listening experience alternate to that music heard in the film. I think his music works better in the film; there is a romanticism brought to the film by Vangelis’ customary style that lifts the film up, and indeed makes some moments of the film quite transcendent. Its possibly why I enjoy the film so much, that I’m a huge fan of Vangelis for so many decades now that I cannot seperate my enjoyment of his music from the film itself, but certainly he brings a great deal to Alexander and it would be a much lesser film without this score. Being electronic it works against the pre-conceived notions of what a period film should sound like, in just the same way as his scores for Chariots of Fire and The Bounty do. Vangelis has a gift for keying into the ‘soul’ of a film- in Blade Runner it was the bluesy, electronic jazz of a future seen through the old, mirroring the films future noir sense of being caught in between two worlds . Here in Alexander he seems to capture the lyrical, almost classical romanticism of the story, the myth beneath the reality that has allowed the story of Alexander the Great to be so… ageless. Stone seems to have been frustrated by the episodic nature of film, trying to evoke some meaning or message in the sequencing of the it, feeling it lacking in a conventional chronological telling, hence all these different cuts, but Vangelis seems to have it at hand in his keyboard. Its the meshing of Western and Eastern and the ethnic music of each, while each transformed by his mostly electronic orchestration. I think the story of Alexander is too big for one film, or one film-maker (or classical historian for that matter) to really encompass but I think perhaps Vangelis comes closest to nailing it. Maybe Stone and Vangelis should have made Alexander as some great opera; in some ways, its almost there.

The Doors

doors1.jpgHmm, I’m indeed late to this one- Oliver Stone’s The Doors dates back to 1991, between his Born on the Fourth of July and JFK, and it’s the lesser of the three by some margin. I really didn’t enjoy it- so much so that it actually bored me, and I’ve never been bored by an Oliver Stone film before. Well, there’s a first time for everything I guess.

Something was missing- the film really didn’t seem to show me anything new. Jim Morrison took a lot of drugs, drank a lot of alcohol, had a lot of sex, and died an early (if not really surprising, considering his lifestyle) death. I can’t say the film really explained much to me about the appeal of The Doors or their music, other than perhaps that it was of its time and you really had to be there. In that respect, the film does a reasonable job of recreating the ‘sixties and the mood of the times, but not in any way I hadn’t seen before. In anycase, I always felt the film was an unreliable narrator, in a sense that I don’t think it ever got me inside Morrison’s head, that I never really understood him or where he was coming from, what he was doing. He took a lot of mind-altering substances and all the excess fucked him up, basically- but I knew all that before I saw the film, and I can’t say I was ever a fan of his music enough to really care.

It felt like the film was a failure, on Stones’ part. It didn’t really work, to me. Indeed, I’m surprised we never saw multiple subsequent cuts trying to fix it as Stone did with his Alexander years later, and that film was never, in any version, as messed up and broken as this one felt. Clearly I’ve therefore missed something because Stone was evidently happy enough with it to live well alone.

But yes, something was missing for me- we’ve seen stories of these self-destructive, narcissistic superstars before – perhaps the point of the film was that, in this respect, Jim Morrison was the Real Deal, while most pop stars only play the part. But the film didn’t explain why he was that way, what made him. As a child he witnessed some car crash in the desert that in some way impressed him or marked him- but beyond that ‘revelation’ what really explains it? And was that a fiction of the films unreliable narrator or was it something that Morrison himself revealed? I don’t know. Whatever Stone was trying to achieve, it didn’t work for me, and all the odd ghostly reprises of Native Americans from his childhood experience just seemed clumsy and forced. Not Oliver Stone’s finest hour in my book, and not a film I’m ever likely to rewatch.

Deepwater Blues

deep1.jpg2017.21: Deepwater Horizon (2016) – Streaming, HD

Deepwater Horizon seems symptomatic of modern Hollywood to me.  Its fine for what it is, but it is clearly reshaping a tense and disturbing real-life story into a fairly formulaic mainstream entertainment flick with huge stunts and explosions straight out of a standard blockbuster thriller. Its rather a shame, as it begins with a docu-drama approach that ensures some level of reality as it displays the routines of working on drilling rigs; rostered weeks away from home, the transport offshore, the mechanisms of the rig etc. The safety culture and pressures on that from the corporate side, regards making a profit on huge investments. Its interesting, if somewhat mundane in how it is portrayed.

deep2But of course this is no dramatic examination of corporate greed or safety measures being cut; its really a disaster movie. So the film seems to transform midway and it’s an uncomfortable transition. As extraordinary as the visual effects and the set-pieces are when the shit hits the fan, its nonetheless all too much like the ending of a Marvel superhero movie.  Mark Wahlberg is, as always, Mark Wahlberg, and the film fails to recover from the fact that he simply cannot ‘be’ anything other than who he ever is in a film. Maybe that’s just a personal thing of mine, but he seems to be an actor who, well, seems to bring the same personna to every film he does.  He’s supposed to be an Everyman Joe here, but he just seems to be the same guy from that last Transformers movie, complete with similar pyrotechnics. It needed someone like a young Jack Lemmon or Kevin Costner, but to be fair to Wahlberg I guess there is no real depth of character in any of the people portrayed here.

So for me the film really gets scuppered by  its casting and the pressure to ‘wow’ audiences with extreme explosions and spectacular effects. Imagine if Oliver Stone in JFK-mode got hold of a film like this- he’d have ripped the shit out of the corporate hacks involved and really intensified the injustice and tragedy that unfolded during and -most tellingly- after the event, through the ensuing environmental disaster and rather ineffective courtroom investigations that this film rather tritely passes over with hardly a mention.

Thats the biggest crime of this movie- it shows what happened, and quite vicariously too, but it doesn’t actually say anything.  A film like this, it should say something, yes? It doesn’t say anything about the environmental impact or the economic impact on the area or about the nature of human greed or human complacency, or corporate responsibilities. An Oliver Stone movie would have had plenty to say, I’m sure. Make people angry about shit like this, dammit. Don’t make a trite disaster movie, spectacular as it may be.

A different structure, say, starting with the disaster and then following it up with the courtroom stuff examining the procedures, safety issues and the injustices etc may have afforded a more rewarding movie. But that kind of movie isn’t what makes a blockbuster these days. Back in the 1970s, films dared to be political. Not anymore.

The Big Short (2015)

big1.jpg2016.65: The Big Short (Amazon VOD)

The world is a cesspit of lies and corruption, fraud and criminal activity in the financial markets aided and abetted by the political elite who themselves profit from the status quo, and the governing bodies that instead of policing the system sit back and allow things to spiral into financial apocalypse. It sounds like an over-the-top Oliver Stone movie, but instead its the premise of The Big Short, a riveting film that has the form of a factual comedy drama akin to The Wolf of Wall Street but is in reality more of a horror movie.

I can’t say I understood much of it, no matter how often the film breaks the fourth wall to stop and explain in layman’s terms the terminology (mortgage bonds, collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps) being used by the bankers and investors in the film. Maybe that’s the point- in the film, it’s alleged that even the bankers themselves didn’t really understand what was going on, they just thought the party would never end. It is all smoke and mirrors, tricks and lies. Maybe it would make more sense on second viewing but I must confess there were a few moments it all seemed to be going way over my head. As it is, it remains a thrilling, fascinating ride that is all the more terrifying because it is all based on recent events that we all witnessed and to some extent have suffered by.

The strong cast (Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling) are all great and no doubt their names attract viewers who wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in a tragi-comedy about financial collapse. Maybe a more serious, 1970’s-style investigative drama like Spotlight would have served to make a more daunting film- instead this comedy is more about the elite partying into the apocalypse with our protagonists caught in the chaos and disorder, our witnesses and conscience (at least Carell’s character- Carell is brilliant as the Worlds Angry Man left mutely stunned when he discovers he was right all along).

One of my problems with The Wolf of Wall Street was chiefly that, entertaining as Scorsese made its tale of excess and corruption in Wall Street, there wasn’t enough of a reality-check; coverage of the real losers in its tale of financial whizzkids getting rich at the expense of others. He seemed to be fascinated by the big houses, fast cars and beautiful women- yeah, the exciting and entertaining stuff, sure, but I just thought he owed us more social commentary, more balance. I think we get that in The Big Short because as the apocalypse looms it is clear who is really going to suffer- and it isn’t those engineering the global meltdown. At the end of the film there is a depressing summary of what happened post-meltdown, who was held accountable and what has been done to ensure it cannot happen again (in America at least). Pretty much no-one and nothing, it seems.

Let’s just hope we don’t get a sequel in ten/twenty years time.

All Is Lost (2013)

all1It’s curious how some movies share plots/themes with others. Sometimes its clearly a case of rival studios making competing films that are different spins on the same story- Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down are pretty much the same film but each with opposing approach (the former overly serious, the latter tongue-in-cheek fun). It happened years ago regards extinction event/deadly asteroids with Deep Impact and Armageddon (again, the former rather serious while the latter deliriously camp fun). Sometimes studios balk at launching expensive rival projects (usually one wins the box office and the other loses it) which results in one getting canceled (Baz Luhrmann’s Alexander project giving way to Oliver Stone’s film). But I guess its possible that films with similar subjects get made independently and ignorant of each other.

I don’t know if this was the case with All Is Lost, that its similarities were accidental, but the most immediate impression whilst watching J.C. Chandor’s film is the feeling that you’re watching Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity transposed to the ocean. Indeed I rather fear that many viewers will be distracted by the sense of deja-vu and dismiss All Is Lost as a rip-off and inferior. This would be unfortunate really, because All Is Lost is a great survival movie and character piece that benefits from its real-world setting and the lack of cgi spectacle that dominates so much of Gravity. Gravity, by its blockbuster nature, raised the stakes to huge levels and at times threatened its suspension of disbelief -indeed, in my own reading of the film, I believe the characters all perish early on and the ensuing events are Sandra Bullock’s near-death/post-death experiences similar to Tim Robbin’s character in Jacobs Ladder (there are simply too many happy coincidences/nearby space stations to be wholly realistic). Everytime Bullock pulls herself up on the shore at the end I expect to glimpse a little girl (her dead daughter) just on the edge of the final shot.

All Is Lost may be destined to forever suffer in comparison to its big-budget counterpart and sit in its very long shadow, but this would be a great shame. Both are great movies- its just that one is much quieter than the other. There’s nothing wrong with that, surely- maybe something superior even. All Is Lost is far less a blockbuster and much the better for it. Its a much quieter film, and slower-paced. Very often I reflected that the film reminded me of the films of the ‘seventies with its pacing and quiet thoughtfulness. There is hardly any dialogue at all, just a few muttered expletives really- it’s all about what we see, an exercise in Pure Cinema, far removed from how many modern movies explain everything through dialogue.The soundtrack is restrained, the (very good) Alex Ebert semi-ambient score mixed well into the superbly effective sound design.


all3Robert Redford is excellent- he plays a nameless mariner (simply named ‘Our Man’ in the credits) who awakens to find water in his cabin- he discovers that his yacht has been holed by a rogue shipping container during the night (so there’s another similarity to Gravity– in both films it’s junk that causes the ensuing drama; is there further meaning to that in both films?). In the middle of the wide expanse of the Indian Ocean, the mariner’s ship floats in complete isolation with its navigational and radio equipment ruined by the impact. The immediate danger seems minor, as he separates his boat from the container and starts makeshift repairs, but it becomes apparent that the yacht is dangerously harmed and following an ensuing storm the mariner’s attempt to survive becomes increasingly desperate. It’s a tale of survival against ever-increasing odds, of man dwarfed by, and at odds with, mother nature- the endless desolation of the ocean as indifferent and cruel as the cold depths of space are in Gravity.

We don’t learn much at all about our unnamed protagonist, except that as the events unfold he begins to re-examine who he is, what he has achieved and who/what he leaves behind should he die. In a similar way to the events of Gravity, it becomes a transcendent experience, the increasing closeness of death forcing a reappraisal of oneself. I had a sense that he isn’t a very nice guy, that while we empathise with his plight, he has a past unknown to us that wouldn’t really cast him in a very good light were it revealed (in one of his lowest moments he writes a last note and it is tinged with regret). It’s a tour-de-force from Redford, who incredibly was in his late seventies when this was shot, and this could well be considered one of his very best performances. His is the only character in the film, and Redford has to carry it completely on his own (in Gravity at least Bullock had other actors she could play off from). The mariners calm confidence is slowly chipped away by the unfolding events and his worn face starts to betray the quiet desperation he feels as his survival becomes ever unlikely. Its a great performance from Redford and a fine demonstration that not every leading man in a movie has to be young, fit and apparently unmarked by life (the one thing that bugs me about casting Keanu Reeves in John Wick, for instance, is that he hardly looks worn by the life of a hitman).

So if you can shake off the nagging sense of deja-vu when watching it, I’m sure you will be rewarded if you give All Is Lost a try. I’m certain it will eventually turn up on television with little fanfare and people will discover it (Redford himself was very critical of the films marketing on its theatrical release and its disc release has been similarly under the radar). Maybe it’s one of those films destined for reappraisal in years to come.

all2