Writer and director JC Chandor’s All is Lost is a surprisingly tense and emotionally draining experience for a film that could almost be billed as a contemporary silent thriller.
It follows the ordeal of a sailor beset by a series of catastrophes while sailing solo across the Indian Ocean, and his desperate battle to survive.
Robert Redford, who gives what is perhaps the performance of his career, plays the grizzled, taciturn sailor. Redford, now 77 years old, is the only person on screen for the entire film and it is a truly astounding performance.
The film opens with the sailor awakening in the bunk of his yacht to find that a stray shipping container has breached the hull and water is pouring in, ruining his navigation and communication equipment. What follows is a gripping series of events as the master yachtsman attempts to repair his craft and navigate his way to safety with only practical skill and resilience to assist him.
Interestingly, it is the lack of dialogue and concentration on character that makes the film so mesmerising. The sense of isolation is palpable. There is nothing to focus on but Redford, the maimed yacht, and the immensity of sky and ocean.
Lesser actors might have given in to over-playing the desperation, and it is a credit to Redford’s skill that he holds himself back. The result is that the audience is riddled with curiosity – who is he? What is his back-story? How did he end up here, alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean?
Throughout the film, the audience must continually cope with the paradox of watching an intimate rendering of a series of events happening to an almost unknowable character.
The silence of the sailor is another unique aspect of the film. Aside from a short voice-over monologue as the film opens, Redford speaks a mere handful of times. When the sailor does eventually swear, it seems the most anticipated, heart-felt and justified expletive in the history of cinema.
This is a brilliant film with an intense and engrossing plot and an actor who does justice to his extraordinarily demanding role. The cinematography is breathtaking, especially the scenes shot looking up from underwater, with the lifeboat drifting amoeba-like on the surface.
Chandor’s clever direction avoids the Hollywood clichés usually found in survival thrillers. However, if you secretly nurture plans to one day sail solo around the world, All is Lost is not recommended.
More InDaily film reviews:
Dallas Buyers Club
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
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