Let's take the obvious comparison to its logical conclusion, shall we? If Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity was a woman's picture set in outer space and given an experimental sheen by its purely cinematic reliance on one actress's performance, J. C. Chandor's All Is Lost sees Mr. Cuarón's play and raises it (though, to be sure, both films were produced concurrently). It has even less dialogue than Gravity, and while Sandra Bullock could at least rely on George Clooney for part of the film, Robert Redford is entirely alone on screen for the whole length of All Is Lost. What makes it an even more radical experiment in filmmaking is its reliance on the physical, tangible medium of water, and we all know how water is the most trickier, complicated element to shoot in.

     Mr. Chandor's film is essentially a man vs. the elements piece, where a solitary yachtsman finds himself at the mercy of the sea when his boat is broadsided by a stray shipping container, miles away from sea lanes and with no access to radio. That Mr. Chandor wanted Mr. Redford is no accident; the film places the "golden boy" of the last "Golden Age" of Hollywood, the star that straddled the worlds of the old studio system and the liberal-idealist generation of the 1960s and 1970s, at the heart of a shipwreck while having him ask what was it all worth. If, indeed, it was worth anything. His first words in All Is Lost are "I'm sorry". And in Mr. Redford's craggier yet still recognisably handsome face, in his aged features, a lifetime of experiences and of commitments (or lack thereof) come through loud and clear. It's a performance all the more remarkable for its quietness, its refusal to grandstand or play to the awed crowds or coast on one's reputation.

     That alone explains the limitations and challenges Mr. Chandor took on for his sophomore picture; to be sure, a surprising choice since his debut, the Wall Street ensemble piece Margin Call, was a carefully plotted screenwriter's movie and All Is Lost relies almost exclusively on visuals and performance, with the writer/director's prosaic approach to the sea as a landscape that is as spectacular as outer space but demands much less attention. It is by no means a masterpiece; there are moments where the viewer realises just how much underwritten some of the plot points are, but it's really the sheer normality of the film that in many ways embodies its actual strength. A dramatically powerful tale does not require outlandish scenery or elaborate situations, let alone an invincible action hero. An actor and a director who know what they want is all it takes, and in All Is Lost you find them perfectly balanced. And if All Is Lost is less complete and more open-ended than Gravity, it's very much its equal in terms of filmmaking intelligence and taking a challenge head-on.

Cast: Robert Redford
Director and screenwriter: J. C. Chandor
Cinematography: Frank G. de Marco, Peter Zuccarini (colour, widescreen)
Music: Alex Ebert
Designer: John P. Goldsmith
Costumes: Van Broughton Ramsey
Editor: Pete Beaudreau
Visual effects: Robert Munroe
Producers: Neal Dodson, Anne Gerb, Justin Nappi, Teddy Schwarzman (Black Bear Pictures, Treehouse Pictures, Before The Door Pictures and Washington Square Films in association with Filmnation Entertainment and Sudden Storm Entertainment)
USA/Canada, 2013, 106 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 14, Lisbon, January 23rd 2014

Nominated for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Sound Editing


Popular Posts