ALL IS LOST
Deep into a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, an unnamed man (Redford) wakes to find his 39-foot yacht taking on water after a collision with a shipping container left floating on the high seas. With his navigation equipment and radio disabled, the man sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. Despite his success in patching the breached hull, his mariner's intuition and a strength that belies his age, the man barely survives the tempest.
Review by Louise Keller:
There are many compelling reasons to see this film. The first is Robert Redford. A man in a boat battles the elements. The concept is simple and the sheer simplicity of the film is one of its great surprises and strengths. Uncluttered by narrative or dialogue, Robert Redford gives an astounding performance - spending most of the film literally and psychologically hanging on.
Unlike Life of Pi, in which a tiger and other elements provide theatrical distractions, All is Lost concentrates on the extreme close-up experience of a man stranded at sea, struggling against all odds to survive. In total contrast to his first film Margin Call (2011), which relied on words and relationships, J.C. Chandor's film relies on the elements of nature to navigate its course. What the two films do have in common are their reliance on instinct, inner strength and determination. High tension on the high seas... if the sea is your mistress, this is an experience you won't want to miss.
There is no back story and we are told nothing about the circumstances that bring the unnamed man (Redford) 1,700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straights in the Indian Ocean. After a short, enigmatic monologue by Redford, we are immediately with him in the 39 foot yacht. He is sailing solo and comfortable in his own skin. We know the boat is named Virginia Jane and the action begins when a collision with a drifting red shipping container prompts a nasty gash in the yacht's hull.
There are no histrionics or distractions; in an unhurried matter of fact way, the man simply gets on with repairing the damaged boat. One challenge follows another and Chandor slowly but surely builds the tension, enticing us into the shoes and under the skin of the man on the boat and allowing us to share the experience with him.
Rain that teams from the heavens is almost a soothing factor but the violent thunderstorm that follows, tosses the boat mercilessly up and down the peaks and troughs of the turbulent waves. The gale-force winds jostle its equilibrium, reinforcing its vulnerability and that of the man at its helm. The deck looks like a miniature from between his legs as he winches himself up the tall mast to try to manage some repairs after the storm passes. When gathering essential items from the flooded interior, there is a surreal feeling as he opens a drawer underwater, taking out a single fork and spoon.
The sound scape is vital throughout: the rippling waves, the howling gale, the rattling and creaking of the boat as it struggles to retain its composure on the angry ocean whose giant waves and disdainful disregard for any form of human life. The use of music is minimal with occasional subtle, repetitive themes, monotonic sounds and an effective short sequence of choral music.
Unlike Castaway in which Tom Hanks talks to a soccer ball, Redford talks to no-one. The single syllable words he utters on several occasions are responses to specific events. So there are no distractions. From the expression in his eyes, we are alerted to his thoughts, his distress, discomfort, frustrations, helplessness and despair. Redford is magnificent. This is no vanity project. Every freckle, sun spot, wrinkle and sign of ageing is under the magnifying glass of Frank G. DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini superb cinematography. The underwater shots of the circular lifeboat from below, as synchronised schools of fish gracefully glide past purposefully, are serenely beautiful. At times the shimmering light on the night's dark waters resembles a Renoir painting.
Tension has built so steadily that we hardly notice the escalation of the stakes as life is balanced on a knife edge. There are moments of hope and moments of anguish. The courage and single-minded focus of survival of the man never wanes. Will his survival skills pay dividends or are his valiant efforts to be true, strong, kind and be right be in vain?
This is an ambitious, unique and riveting film that offers a treasure trove of rewards.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's always the little things ... after screening All is Lost to participants in my movie course (Movies Now, Sydney University Centre for Continuing Education), one of the first and most frequents elements to be brought up for discussion was the fact that, with a storm brewing, the lone sailor gave himself a shave. Some felt this was an absurd thing to do, in the circumstances; others saw it as a human response, either as a preparation for death or just a daily function to anchor his mind and provide a sense of normality. The fact that he remains clean shaven throughout his eight day ordeal is testament to the fact that he shaved every day.
Our detailed consideration of this single element goes to prove that filmmaker J. C. Chandor has achieved what he set out to do in respect of making the audience interpret the film in personal ways. No right or wrong takes.
Full of detail, the film is almost claustrophobic at times as we stay inside the cabin of the yacht while the ocean heaves outside, the wind howls, the boat shrieks. Chandor refuses to free us from the cramped cabin for a big, wide shot, as some might have been tempted to do. But then very few filmmakers would have had to make the choice: it's a unique work.
Redford carries the film with his screen gravitas, yet the absence of detail about the character - contrasting with the abundance of detail about the physical reality - invites us to look into his eyes and search his face for signs of his thoughts. And he answers our quest with silent but eloquent emotional commentary.
To finish the film, Chandor draws on his cinematic instincts and gives us a wonderfully ambiguous, metaphoric scenario about which we can all argue for years.
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ALL IS LOST (M)
CAST: Robert Redford
PRODUCER: Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb, Teddy Schwartzman
DIRECTOR: J. C. Chandor
SCRIPT: J. C. Chandor
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frank G. DeMarco, Peter Zuccarini
EDITOR: Pete Beaudreau
MUSIC: Alex Ebert
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John P. Goldsmith
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 20, 2014