(Video on Demand, May 2015) There is something fascinating and heartening in seeing J.C. Chandor’s evolution as a filmmaker. From the sterile boardrooms of Margin Call to the lonely ocean of All is Lost, Chandlor goes somewhere else entirely in tackling the problems of a circa-1981 New York heating businessman in A Most Violent Year. The title is deceptively apt, as our protagonist comes to realize what is required of him during a particularly brutal period in his life; attacked by rivals, spurred on by his merciless wife, besieged by police and unions, he reluctantly turns to the dark side in an effort to keep what he has worked hard to create. It’s a slow and low-key film, but one that is seldom boring or uninteresting: Oscar Isaac is splendid in the lead role, while Jessica Chastain is no less compelling as his connected wife. Chandor’s directing is far more self-assured than the static shots of Margin Call, but less gimmicky than the high-wire audacity of All is Lost: here, he’s clean, unobtrusive yet evocative. It all amounts to a kind of film seldom seen today, studying the compromise of a good man rather than the spectacles of an action thriller.
(On Cable TV, July 2014) Some movies demand admiration simply by sheer audacity, and All is Lost‘s ultra-minimalism in portraying a single man stranded on a damaged boat in the middle of the ocean is the kind of stunt filmmaking that makes for an intriguing departure from the usual movies. There is only one cast-member: Robert Redford, supporting an entire film on his shoulders while having fewer than a dozen spoken lines. Much of the film is spent seeing him react to the collision between his boat and an errant shipping container: as his situation gets worse (powerful storms don’t help when the boat is leaking), All is Lost becomes a pure survival thriller about a man losing everything and yet never giving up. Writer/director J.C. Chandor delivers a superb cinematographic exercise, considerably improving upon the directing in his debut Margin Call. There’s a refreshing lack of dramatic intensity at play: Redford underplays everything as would befit a man focusing on survival, while the score and cinematography also try to restrain themselves. But while the film is easy to admire, it’s not quite as easy to love: it’s a bit longer than it should have been, and the ambiguous ending will either work or not. Still, much of All is Lost‘s power comes from its self-assured portrayal of survival at sea under desperate circumstances. It would work as a good double-feature for either Life of Pi or Gravity.