All Is Lost: Movie Review
Cast: Robert Redford, The Sea
Director: J C Chandor
It seems survival stories are de rigeur.
What with the likes of Captain Phillips, and the heady rush of Gravity in space, this latest sees Robert Redford in a more earthbound attempt to simply survive and endure.
Redford is an unnamed man who's on a solo voyage on the water. 1700 miles off the Sumatra Straits and amid calm seas and rippling water, his boat strikes a floating shipping container, ripping a hole in the side of the hull. As it begins to leak in water, the man realises his boat's been crippled by the strike, with radio, navigation and engine power gone.
Despite managing to patch up the hole, he sails directly into a storm and faces a survival struggle that he'd never prepared for, having to draw on skills he could never have imagined using in this day and age.
For 105 minutes, All Is Lost is dialogue free - it begins with Redford's voiceover dictating his final travelogue, and delivering a "I tried" speech as well as revealing that he fought, though he's "not sure what that's worth." Following that, it's silence on the ocean wave, except for one extremely loud and extremely frustrated profanity into the piece.
All Is Lost succeeds on the strength of Redford's performance, a textured and nuanced turn that delivers so much despite saying so little. As you watch him battle the elements and face mortality and reality, you realise you've spent over 90 minutes watching Redford give his all, performing underwater stunts, looking rugged and older than you remember and sympathising with his frustrations over the implications of decisions he'd made. A lack of back-story is also a bonus, because the emotional involvement is here and now and instantaneous rather than due to mawkish and manipulative cuts back and forth to those missing him on land. It's a hard ask to invest initially in him when we know little about him but it's a major benefit to Redford's understated performance that we don't get manipulated both by his mesmerising performance and Chandor's pared back direction and story.
A relative lack of a OST also greatly benefits the idea of man against nature in this dialogue free adventure - the sounds come from the lapping of the waves, a reminder of the calm deadliness of the sea life and how quickly change can pivot and turn when nature's involved. The sound work is utterly mesmerising and in a darkened theatre does so much to build atmosphere as the hulls creak, the storms blow and the silence hits.
All of these are components which need to be factored in - because there are no end of frustrations at some of the decisions made by the man at crucial dramatic moments in the film, which unfortunately end up being cripplingly distracting.
Redford's character never once wears a life jacket when venturing out on deck in storms, seems to make decisions that baffle the mind such as applying plasters to his face in a sinking ship and leaves equipment out when a storm approaches.
For the most part, Chandor lets the natural elements take the charge; a refusal to signpost which day is which into the endurance (he merely says it's 8 days earlier) means you suffer the disorientation of Redford's man, who's lost on the waves; one major disappointment is having done such sterling work with the soundscapes of the storm, he chooses to rely on a booming blast of synthesiser music to convey the danger rather than let the elements toss our aural tones around.
As for the ending, once again, a la Gravity, it's as if the Hollywood machine triumphed. Sure, you can argue it's ambiguous, but an expeditious edit would have delivered a crippling narrative blow that would have ensured the final scenes were left to linger. Instead, the inference is that the director didn't have the courage of his narrative convictions and the need to satiate the audience a little too much after 105 minutes of endurance triumphed.
All in all, All Is Lost is flawed in places but soars high in others; thanks to a powerhouse turn by Redford, it's a sign that even in his later years, with scant dialogue but impressive amounts to do, he can rule the cinematic roost.