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. Using only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his progress, he is forced to rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane in hopes of hailing a passing vessel. But with the sun unrelenting, sharks circling and his meager supplies dwindling, the ever-resourceful sailor soon finds himself staring his mortality in the face. Written by
Technically astounding, but not as profound as it thinks it is.
J.C. Chandor is a lucky man. After scoring an Oscar nomination with his 2011 screenplay and debut Margin Call, he swiftly got the opportunity to work one-on-one with another original script and a silver screen legend, Robert Redford. Unfortunately, Chandor is not a reliable hand behind a pen. After a promising first act and a killer ensemble, Margin Call seems to lose the will to live with no momentum, tension or really, drama, moving it towards the moment where the film sort of has to end. However, despite what its prologue may tell you, All Is Lost has the will to live. In fact, that's all its got as it wrestles through its narrative. The premise is both ambitious and minimal. It's a premise that you hear and wonder how someone could make a compelling film out of something so vague. Well All Is Lost achieves it, but holds onto that vagueness. I can't really recall the details of what happens besides miscellaneous actions, but this is a film about the experience and taking you along for the ride.
From a technical standpoint and for an independent film, it's rather unmatched. It may not be wide in scale, but it's convincing in the details of its design. Whereas sea-bound films such as Life Of Pi have been distracting for the moments where its pool sets are clearly apparent, All Is Lost is thoroughly convincing that we are forever in the middle of the ocean through its cinematography and special effects. I wish the editing didn't jump around as much, it was impossible to truly get immersed in the situations and the weight of the challenges. But most importantly besides the visuals, it's a soundscape. With much of the sources of the sounds coming offscreen, the conviction of the sound editing and mixing are astonishing and often frightening. The one dip out of the fly-on-the-wall approach is the score which appropriately highlights the films best and most poignant moments. But in a one-man band, it all hinges on our lead. Our Man, Robert Redford.
I've only seen him in a collection of 60s and 70s classics and I know at the very least he is a confident and often charming lead. I know him more for his direction work with his Oscar winning Ordinary People and Oscar deserving Quiz Show. All Is Lost was quickly pronounced his opus so I was intrigued given his reputation. With no dialogue to work with, his performance is in his overwhelmed but quiet expressions that try to grasp what little soul he has left. Surprisingly, it's not a showy performance but one that perfectly blends into the texture of the film. However, it doesn't achieve what Gravity achieves when faced with the risk of mortality. We don't know enough about Our Man, his story doesn't mean enough to us. Instead, we're left with a strong melancholy. As like Margin Call, the film simply deflates from its tragedy, and while they may try, characters can't do anything against the obstacles Chandor puts in front of them. At least this was a little more believable.
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