When a shipping container hits his small boat, a man (Robert Redford) finds himself putted against the elements, the sea and fate as he battles to survive, alone at sea.
J.C. Chandor’s first film – Margin Call – boasted a huge all star cast, now the director turns his attention from the ensemble to the individual with All is Lost. The move from telling a story with a wide and varied cast, in a film filled with dialogue and deception, to a film that centres on one man, and has very little spoken word, is a challenge that Chandor rises to.
This year, we have seen Captain Phillips survive an ordeal of other people’s making, but in the film that Chandor has created, the events that set our man’s vessel adrift are sheer chance, with no one truly to blame. Chandor allows Redford to command the screen and, although some of his actions may be frustrating, the lack of speech through the film means that the audience is left wondering and curious about what the man will do next. It would have been very easy to include voice over or a device that allows Redford’s character to speak, explain his motivations and vocalise his fears, but by making the film virtually silent, Chandor draws us further into our man’s struggle.
That said, however, it is this silence and lack of speech that also works against the film; there are moments that feel as though they are stretched thin, and the repetition of events feels particularly cruel. A little more dialogue may have been nice for the sake of getting to know this man better, but the motivation not to include chatter – to allow the isolation to take over the entire film – is understandable. The film is a little frustrating, as it seems that the fates have turned against our man and every hope he has is cruelly dashed, but the juxtaposition of man and machine is interesting and, as the man never truly gives up hope, neither does the audience, meaning the film turns from an examination of courage into a study of instinct, hope and humanity.
Redford is on fine form; the lack of dialogue and interaction means that the entire film, audience empathy and interest lie with the actor, and he utterly commands the screen. Redford is understated yet strong as he battles both nature and machine in a bid to save himself. This study of Redford turns into an examination of the craft of acting, and the skill of filmmaking, as well as allowing Redford to be the anchor that holds this film together.
All is Lost is a challenging, frustrating and engaging examination of hope and survival. Redford is commanding and Chandor’s film is both cruel and uplifting. There are times when the film feels thin, and our man’s actions can be a little frustrating but the strength of the film is that our empathy always lies with him.