Director JC Chandor first came to attention with his debut feature Margin Call, an excellent, wordy financial drama about men who have lost control of their system. His follow up All Is Lost tackles a similar idea with a completely different approach, featuring virtually no dialogue and a lot of lonely desperation at sea. Robert Redford plays ‘our man’ (as he’s referred to in the credits). We’re introduced to him with a very short voiceover declaring the hopelessness of his situation and that’s almost the only sound we hear from him all film. We know nothing about our character apart from how he reacts to his predicament, which begins badly when shipping debris punctures his vessel, a real point of irony later in the film when getting into a shipping lane becomes his last hope of saviour. He stays calm whilst attempting to repair the damage, clearly an experienced mariner.
Redford is absorbing as the calm, struggling survivor, providing an incredible physical performance for someone in his 70s. Chandor creates a daunting atmosphere through his unique vision and immense sound design. He restrains himself from providing many closeups of Redford, preferring for our man’s character to be displayed through action. His decision to shave after things start going wrong says as much about the man than any intimately placed camera. This is experimental film-making from an incredibly exciting director. It’s meditative cinema, asking its audience to create their own backstory and thought processes for the film’s only character, filled with a bold ambiguity and clear vision.
Also, stick around for the film’s credits, not only because it provides a moment to contemplate the film’s meaning over Alexander Ebert’s wonderful soundtrack but it’s really interesting to see what goes into making such a simple film, the list of individuals involved in ‘shark bait’ being a personal favourite.
Review by David Rank
All Is Lost is out now in the UK and US. Running time 106 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).