Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: J C CHandor
Stars: Robert Redford.
Another old man and the sea?
Like Castaway and Gravity before it, this suspenseful drama is another sparse survival story about a lone protagonist. Also like the Australian drama Tracks which also hit local cinemas this week, All Is Lost is the story of one person’s odyssey to survive in a harsh environment. But unlike Tracks, which is visually stunning but dramatically dull, All Is Lost ratchets up the suspense and tension, and there is a very real sense of danger that follows our hero. The main problem with Tracks is that we knew the main protagonist survived her ordeal because she wrote the book. Here we are not so certain of the outcome.
Screen legend Robert Redford plays an unnamed lone sailor who is on a solo journey across the vast Indian Ocean when his yacht Virginia Jean is struck by a shipping container that must have fallen off a cargo ship. The yacht takes on water through a gaping hole in its side. Redford manages to patch up the damage and continue on his journey, but his navigation equipment and radio no longer function. But that is just the start of his troubles. A violent storm erupts and the tiny boat is tossed and finally wrecked.
Redford is cast adrift in an inflatable life raft with meagre supplies, facing heat exhaustion, dehydration and a fading hope that he can be rescued. Redford is on screen for the whole time here and he gives a wonderful physical performance as a man facing his own mortality and fighting for survival. Redford brings plenty of gravitas to the table, and his forty years of screen stardom immediately informs the character. We don’t really need a backstory. There is little dialogue to give insight into his character, but his stoic determination and desperation are written large on his weathered face. This is superb performance from Redford, who carries the film and is able to effectively convey his emotional state through his eyes and facial expressions.
With its central narrative about a sailor facing the elements while adrift at sea, All Is Lost shares a number of similarities with the recent Life Of Pi, albeit without the CGI created tiger and animals, and without the impressive 3D effects. Both are certainly richly cinematic in style.
All Is Lost is the sophomore film from exciting young director J C Chandor, whose debut film was Margin Call, a flinty drama about the global financial crisis and the wealthy and powerful stock brokers who caused it through their hubris and risky investment strategies. There is a minimalist structure to this film – the action is confined to one setting, but the surroundings and Redford’s actions drive the story forward.
All Is Lost also invites comparisons with Gravity, a similar story about survival and endurance in outer space. Likewise this is also an impressive technical achievement. But, unlike that film, which was shot using CGI and green screens, most of All Is Lost was shot on real locations, which adds to the very real sense of danger. All Is Lost was shot mainly on location in the Bahamas and in the huge water tank in Baja California that was used for Titanic, et al.
Chandor’s regular cinematographer Frank G Marco enhances the look and feel of the material, and his shots of the vast, endless sea are certainly impressive. Veteran underwater cinematographer Peter Zuccarini complements Marco’s work, and his underwater cinematography is also superb. Many of the shots here are similar to his work on Life Of Pi.
Chandor uses the claustrophobic setting well. Even when the camera shows the vast ocean surrounding out hero it still seems crushingly claustrophobic. The impressive soundscape design features howling winds, creaking ropes, and crashing waters to intensify the fear and confusion experienced by our unnamed hero, and it was deservedly nominated for an Oscar. Alex Ebert’s grand, almost operatic but sparsely used score underscores the drama and heightens the haunting effectiveness of Chandor’s vision.
The film’s ending though will likely frustrate or please audiences, and will certainly be the cause of much debate amongst those who see this superbly crafted, gripping and tense drama. All Is Lost may well be Redford’s last screen appearance, but what a memorable note to go out on.