Robert Redford is Our Man, an unnamed sailor deep into his solo voyage some 1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straights when his boat collides with a wayward shipping container. From here on end, over an eight-day period he shows incredible resilience as he fights for survival during a unfortunate number of adverse events.
Directed by J. C. Chandor, All Is Lost is the latest to grace our screens in what is fast becoming the popular survival genre of cinema. For the most part, Chandor has produced a successful film, built on excellent mood and tension, carried by his cast of one. Robert Redford is a total boss. At 77, Redford throws himself into the physicality of this role, performing almost all his own stunts in a manner that would put the 20-something year old Hollywood action stars to shame. No doubt All Is Lost would be a challenging film for any actor, given the minimal dialogue and lack of supporting cast, but Redford’s performance confirms his reputation as one of the most versatile actors of our time. There is a reason his career has been as illustrious as it has and it is seen here in the idiosyncratic portrayal of Our Man. In saying this, while Redford nails the physicality of this role, there were times the steely stoicism Redford projected came across as lacking depth of character and emotion.
Based on the filmmaking, All Is Lost is fantastic. The underwater cinematography team deserves a mention, not only creating some absolutely stunning stagnant shots but for also capturing excellent quality underwater shots of Redford during the tumultuous storm. Credit must also be given to All Is Lost’s music score; Alex Ebert’s (frontman of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’) compositions compliment the action onscreen and add to the underlying suspense.
For the everyday moviegoer looking for a captivating film, however, I feel All Is Lost is just a tad too sparse. While the action is considerable, it does become formulaic and predictable. If Chandor had a list of clichéd happenings for a lost seaman, he’d be ticking boxes left, right, and centre; biblical sized storms, capsizing, and a school of circling sharks all feature, as expected. My interest waned throughout the film, and while each new disaster managed to grab my attention at first, it wasn’t long before I once again became disinterested.
Perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue if we were given more of a sense of Our Man’s character. With absolutely no back-story to Our Man there was little opportunity for character growth and development, and there were points I struggled to relate and empathise with Redford on more than a superficial level. Instead, I felt frustrated and hoped Our Man would just “give up already” considering we entered this film knowing that “all is lost”. Whilst viewing, I thought this was possibly due to the fact that the dialogue is so minimal. There are a grand total of four lines of dialogue throughout the film (excluding a short voice-over monologue at the beginning), three of which are the same line repeated. Given the plot, it’s not a great stretch of the imagination to guess what that final line of dialogue is. (Here’s a clue: it rhymes with “luck”, of which Our Man has none.) Upon reflection, however, I realised that sitting through unnecessary dialogue would have been too reminiscent of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s inane prattling in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, one of my greatest misgivings for that film.
If you’re a fan of the survival film, All Is Lost will not disappoint. However, not even half an hour into the film all I could think was: If All Is Lost were a novel, I would have skipped to the final chapter by now.
Take from that what you will.
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