ALL IS LOST
Sponsored by ST. ERMIN'S HOTEL, LONDON
Release Date: 13 December 2013 (UK)
Director: J.C. Chandor
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Starring: Robert Redford
Screening Reviewed: London Film Festival Press Screening
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
J.C. Chandor’s latest, tense seafaring drama All Is Lost, is as relatively straightforward a concept and pared down a cinema-going experience as can be imagined. A lone sailor (Robert Redford) awakens somewhere in the Indian Ocean to find his yacht taking on water, courtesy of a lone storage container which has ruptured the side of his vessel. Isolated, stark and devoid of any other characters and practically free of dialogue, what ensues is a focused, enthralling, if occasionally frustrating, devolution of circumstances that pits the fortitude and resilience of our lone protagonist against the odds, all tinted with an aura of dread and inevitability given the films opening soliloquy which heavily implies the ending of his story will not be a positive one.
Visually stunning throughout, All Is Lost is a technically impressive and immersive experience from the offset, and in being an almost exclusively visceral experience, it is fortunate that the stunning cinematography (both above and below water) and Chandor’s nuanced, intuitive direction are wholly proficient in capturing the haunting isolation of our lead stranded at sea, the merest pin prick in a blanket of blue, the nightmarish turmoil of repeat sea storms, or just the almost overbearing and uncompromising vastness of the ocean, as much as a character here as Redford himself. Coupled with sparing use of special effects and Redford’s wonderfully empathetic yet understated central turn, the result is a film about survival and the human spirit that is powerfully convincing and at times tense, moving and almost blisteringly authentic.
Carrying the entire film on practically his performance alone, without the luxury of dialogue or any atypical survival movie tropes (photos of relatives, flashbacks, self-discussions and the like are all entirely absent here), Robert Redford gives an attention-commanding performance impressive in both its restraint and physicality. The complete bare basics approach to character that the film adopts will no doubt be divisive, and it is possible that some will find the complete lack of characterisation or contextualising of who this man is and why he is there a potential inhibitor to any real empathy or satisfying engagement with his peril. However, there is such confidence in Chandor’s approach to starkness and lack of conventional movie ‘filling’ that is seems fitting for Redford’s character to likewise be such an abject blank slate of sorts, almost allowing for a level of audience projection as it were. In the hands of a lesser actor this lack of insight into the only character an audience is given to latch on to in such desperate circumstances would be a death knoll, but Redford exudes charisma effortlessly, and his steely, subtle yet entirely empathetic performance proves entirely captivating and engaging throughout.
All Is Lost is littered with a liberal helping of visual metaphor, allegory and the like, right up to its potentially ambiguous final shot, and there is certainly a wealth of subtext and meaning one could plunder from the visuals alone throughout. Thankfully though, where Chandor could have gone overboard (no pun intended) here, his touches upon man and technology versus nature, the ignorance of commerce, and even a dash of geo-political insinuating is light and inferred rather than overly ingrained in the story being told, and for those wishing to just experience a straightforward disaster/survival movie with no heavier undertones or commentary that is graciously more than accessible.
The only real major faults which detract from the overall experience that All Is Lost attempts to deliver develop from the occasionally repetitive and at-times incredulous writing. Moments leant impact on the strength of their visuals and happening alone, such as the approach of an ominous sea storm in the distance or Redford being flung off his vessel and into the sea, are robbed when they are repeated again later in the movie, in some cases numerous times. Similarly, as the situation becomes increasingly more bleak, the lengths taken to increase the tension almost threatens to venture into parody levels of misfortune and despair. Curtailing into slight spoiler territory, not one but two major trading ships pass right by Redford’s character and leave him be, despite his repeatedly setting off flares to make his presence known. Just when things couldn’t appear to be any worse, his fishing line catches of all things a shark, followed by a cut to an underwater shot of countless numbers of the predators circling beneath him. An attempt to make a signal fire engulfs his entire survival raft in flames. For a film so convincingly crafted and executed and simplistic, streamlined and naturalistic in approach, it is unfortunate that some of the latter developments in an otherwise engaging tale threaten to push suspension of disbelief a notch too far. That the characters misfortunes were occasionally met with bemusement or even laughter in the screening reviewed was not the most re-assuring of signs.
Overall though, All Is Lost is a highly recommended and commendably tempered approach to a genre which often flounders in its own excesses and sentiment. A genuine visual treat bolstered by a terrific, award-worthy central performance from a Hollywood icon continuing to prove his mettle and salt, if you can overlook some of its egregious narrative fumblings later on, you will find in All Is Lost a gripping, confident and unconventional slice of solid survival cinema goodness.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 Stars)
The 57th BFI London Film Festival runs in full from 09 - 20 October 2013 in partnership with American Express. Press Screenings for the festival began 23 September 2013.
For more information on the festival and to book tickets for public screenings visit www.bfi.org.uk/lff