J.C Chandor has moved from the boardroom to the ocean with his sophomore feature film, All is Lost. 77-year-old Redford plays the unnamed solo sailor (the credits list him as “Our Man”) who faces every sailor’s worst nightmare. My review after the jump.
If the title wasn’t enough to warn you that this was going to be a harrowing film, then the voice-over which opens the film quickly installs a sense of fear and apprehension. In some of the film’s only dialogue (it runs perhaps half a page long), Our Man (Robert Redford) is reading what seems to be his final letter or perhaps just a goodbye which he has composed in his mind, but has not put on paper. The film cuts to eight days previously, and we join Redford as water is spilling into his yacht’s cabin, waking him as it does. He climbs onto the deck to find that he has crashed into a shipping container which is floating aimlessly in the ocean, perhaps the victim of stormy seas.
Our Man is clearly a seasoned sailor. Instead of panicking, or rushing to block the hole which the container has gouged into the yacht’s side, he carefully and deliberately undertakes a series of tasks to bring the situation under control. The absence of despair and/or panic is unique in survival films and is part of what makes this film such an incredible experience. Our Man doesn’t flail, he doesn’t freak out, and in doing so he installs confidence in us that he can get through the situation. As the film progresses and the situation becomes more dire, we fear for Our Man, but he refuses to give up; he has determination and knowledge on his side. The frustration and exhaustion is clearly shown of is face, and the few times he does speak, it takes an immense effort to even make a sound, let alone form a word.
We learn little about Our Man’s past – there’s a card he doesn’t open and an apology dictated, but to who? I enjoyed being left to discover him in the moment and not being bogged down by a particular past. It takes a strong performer to keep the audience on board for a film which runs more than 100 minutes with hardly a word spoken and with no other characters to interact with. Thankfully Robert Redford is more than up to the task. His weathered face and steely resistance is utterly captivating and his gaze pierces through the screen. I can only imagine how challenging this shoot would have been, with no other actors to bounce off, it’s up to Redford to wear his feelings, he has no one to tell them to.
Cinematography plays a huge part in telling this ocean-based story, as the absence of dialogue requires the visuals to tell more of the story. The photography is immersive, almost to the point of being claustrophobic. Like Our Man, we cannot escape the ocean and its cruel nature. When Our Man is tipped into the ocean, spinning and struggling to find the surface, we are there with him and it is heart-stopping. Sound plays just as an important part as visuals in All is Lost and although I am not knowledgeable in the area of sound mixing and editing, I appreciate how present the sound was in this film. The sound of the thunder, the pounding waves, the creaking of the yacht – these sounds added incredible texture and depth to the film.
All is Lost held me captive from the opening shot to closing credits. This film is a near perfect marriage of tension, hope and man’s will to survive. Catch it at the cinema if you can.
By Sam McCosh
Director: J.C. Chandor
Writer(s): J.C. Chandor
Starring: Robert Redford
Runtime: 106 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: March 6 2014