In the quiet dawn, watching the water lap at a container bobbling in the ocean, the mellifluous and unmistakable voice of Robert Redford floods your ears. It becomes clear that you're hearing the final message of a defeated man, declaring that despite his efforts; "all is lost." When you're thinking about All is Lost it's hard not to immediately think of films like the fantastical lost at sea fable Life of Pi or the incredible trial of Louis Zamperini in Unbroken. However, All is Lost, adheres to a such a tangible reality that it's vastly more penetrating. Writer and director J.C. Chandor takes you aboard the Virginia Jean where Robert Redford "Our man" (his actual character name) is sailing through the Indian Ocean. Suddenly he’s roused from a peaceful slumber with his hull being breached by the wayward container. The crash unfortunately drowns his radio and motor. Our man must race against time to repair his ship before the frequent volatile weather swarms.
Redford is an incredible presence that is merely required to convey the journey with as few words as possible. Our man is the epitome of the 'strong, silent type.' In the wake of the frustrating turn of events, there no crazed Happy Gilmore yelling at a golf ball tirade waiting for the audience. There's an assessment of the damage and problem solving ingenuity swirling like the machinations of an engine behind his eyes. There's no time for self-pity when your life's at stake in the beautiful death trap of the boundless ocean. Chandor throws challenge after challenge at our man and he rarely breaks; which makes for unexplainable power being loaded into his words when he does say something. The subtlest of decisions from director and actor impressed the most in All is Lost, especially that in one fleeting moment when Our man gets signs of life from his radio for a distress call and when tries to cry out a husky crackle emerges.
Chandor's style takes you aboard and through the Virginia Jean, unobtrusively monitoring Our Man's every move. He doesn't shy away from the banality of the activities that are required to manually upkeep the ship. You're with Our Man as he has to pump the bilge and mop the floor; but you're also allowed to ride up the winch to the top of the mast. It's’ fly on the wall’ filmmaking that occasionally has flashes of the magnificence of the ocean. Chandor makes some really poetic choices with the use of music. For almost the entire opening of the film there's no hint of music to attempt to corral your emotions in one way or another. Once it appears though, it's a music mourning song to the departure of Our Man's ship. The music then becomes the enhancer to the establishing scenes of Our Man's increasingly devastating challenges; none more so than crushing than an arcing flare plummeting into the water to no avail.
Ingenuity before madness; All is Lost won't allow Our Man to go gently into those deceptively welcoming cobalt depths. Chandor and Redford are outstanding.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Written by: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Robert Redford
Robert Redford ... Our Man