Monday, 21 April 2014
Review: All Is Lost (UK Cert 12A)
It's been said that there are only seven stories in the world. If this is true, then one of those stories must be human endurance against the odds. Take a protagonist, put them in a difficult situation, ramp up the danger and see what happens. Recent additions to this canon include both Captain Phillips and Gravity; joining them at the cinema at the beginning of the year was All Is Lost, J.C. Chandor's second feature film (after 2011's Margin Call).
Somewhere in the Indian Ocean, a boat named the Virginia Jean collides with a stray shipping container which rips a hole in its hull. The sole sailor on board (Robert Redford) must do his best to repair his ship. But that's only the beginning because, with navigation equipment and radio damaged, he sails into an oncoming tropical storm... Whilst Margin Call was a dense and wordy affair with a star-packed cast, All Is Lost goes to the other extreme. There are barely ten lines of dialogue in the whole 106 minutes and Redford is the sole actor onscreen, in virtually every shot of the film. The result? An absorbing, tense and thrilling drama.
Redford's character goes unnamed- the credits refer to him as Our Man- and his backstory is elliptically told in an opening narration. He's sorry. He tried. He will miss them. Whatever set of circumstances took him on the Virginia Jean and out to the Sumatra Straits are never fully explained but there's an aching poignancy to these opening lines and it's the most that's said in one go in the entire film. Redford carries the film (almost) single-handedly (more on that in a minute), his features weatherbeaten and grizzled as he tries desperately to survive against the odds. You feel for him, you want him to succeed and, at each setback (and there are many), your heart goes out to him. In many ways, it's what Alfonso Cuaron managed to do with Sandra Bullock in Gravity (until the end), but here the ending is much more satisfactory. Redford's omission from the Best Actor nominations for this year's Academy Awards has been seen by many as an egregious oversight and there's some truth to that; it's a truly exceptional performance.
I said Redford carries the film almost single-handedly. It's true that he is the only person on screen for the duration, but there's so much more to it than that. Much like Gravity, it's a technically accomplished film- there will be moments when you watch it and you'll think 'how did they pull that off?'- and, along with the visual effects team, the sound engineers and the directors of photography also help to sell the whole experience and they should be equally applauded. Frank G. DeMarco (Director of Photography) and Peter Zuccarini (underwater Director of Photography) do excellent work to convey the wide expanse of the sea that Our Man finds himself in and the perils beneath the surface. There are a couple of dizzying shots which show the raft from above and from below which are just astounding. The sound mixers and editors also deserve highest praise for the sound design of the film: every creak, every crack, every torrent of water that gushes through the boat makes your heart jump and the tropical storm in particular sounds great.
This is no popcorn flick, no turn-your-brain-off-and-just-watch-the-pretty-pictures movie. This film demands and deserves your undivided attention. The lack of dialogue will put a lot of people off it, but give it a fair chance. Chances are you'll be drawn into Our Man's struggle for survival and be rooted to your chair as you watch him fighting against the elements.
Rating: 4 out of 5