Gravity recently took the world of film by storm with its tale of an astronaut stranded alone in space, and All is Lost achieves much the same thing – except about 70 miles further below. As J.C. Chandor’s emotional, intense and profound drama tells the tale of a idle sailor, staring death in the face and contemplating his own inevitable fate as he floats around aimlessly in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Robert Redford plays that very man, who awakes one morning to find that his yacht, the Virginia Jean, has had an unfortunate collision with a shipping container overnight, causing an incessant flow of water to leak into his vessel, and damaging his navigation paraphernalia in the process. Though sealing up the hole, he unintentionally sails into a devastating storm, capsizing his yacht and forcing him to retreat to a lifeboat. As his supplies run low, so does his hope. He contemplates his own mortality as time excruciatingly passes by.
All is Lost is remarkably subtle, as Chandor refuses to be dramatic merely for the sake of it. Many Hollywood productions – even Gravity, in some respects – would choose to be sentimental and melodramatic, and yet this is a far more pensive and provocative piece, as much of the story is told in Redford’s facial expressions alone. It is a stunning lead performance, and one enhanced by the actor’s advanced years. The fact he is a fragile, elderly man increases his vulnerability, while his age indicates that he has more of a extensive life to ponder over. That said, he remains nameless and we know nothing of him at all prior to this incident. The film is never silent however, and though it’s understated, the persistent sound of the waves adds a tranquility to proceedings, counteracting effectively against the foreboding atmosphere, as we edge closer and closer to his death. The sound of the waves works both ways too – as they crash against the boat during the storm, thunderous, deafening and intimating.
Given the distinct lack of dialogue, it’s a somewhat remarkable feat for a filmmaker who thrived on the spoken word in his debut feature Margin Call – even earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, given the sharp, penetrating nature of the script. So to return with your sophomore feature and achieve this is the mark of a director who has a very long, illustrious career ahead of him. He may be focusing on the sea this time around, but the sky truly is the limit.