All is Lost sets itself up as a film that really shouldn’t work. Robert Redford stranded on a boat for almost two hours? Barely any dialogue? Nothing besides oceans and the occasional ship? How well would that turn out? Turns out, it’s one of the most tense and emotional films of the year.
You do not get to know much about Redford’s character (his name in the credits is ‘Our Man’) besides the fact he’s on his luxury boat and he’s ended up in the Indian Ocean and crashed into a carrier containing shoes which makes a hole he has to fix. From there, it builds from something that can only be described as heart breaking at points. The title suits the film because everything that could possibly happen, happens and leaves his failing to fix with the hole in the boat as the least of his problems. The suspension and tension keep building even without any dramatic music cues, the soundtrack only being used for transitions rather than as an evocative device, and makes you invest in the character, wanting to know how he’ll get through what would have killed an average man.
The other character in the film is the weather, with water being central to what Our Man goes through. The water has both a character of innocence and menace, representing freedom in one degree and chaos in another. Our Man wants to travel and has to get to where he needs to go but the freedom of the water also brings the chaos to him, with things only made more difficult by the elements and sea creatures that come along. Even boats that pass by barely see him when he alerts them of his situation. It adds to his struggle, one that we as an audience want him to overcome and this is something director J.C. Chandor takes to his highest advantage.
You cannot underestimate the performance of Redford who basically gets pounded by water, tossed around in his boat and looks like a complete wreck by the end, almost void of any hope and prospect of making it out of his situation. The lack of dialogue adds so much to the character, not needing it considering he’s pretty much alone, adding so much more impact to the words he does say. In an age when it would be much easier to give this role to someone younger to establish them further or an actor needing a role to get back in the swing of things, Redford proves that all you need is the right talent rather than the right demographic.
The fact that it is a one set, one character film might put people off All is Lost, along with the fact that it isn’t exactly a high budget masterpiece, with small moments of CGI integration from green screen that might bring people out of the story it sets but although these feel like minor complaints when weighed against the quality of the film, they could be potential concerns for some movie goers.
All is Lost may be a film only suited to the more patient film watcher but that patience provides worthwhile diligence and will lead to the enjoyment of a film that delivers so well on what it sets out to do. A story of isolation, willpower, hope, survival and ultimately, about…well, feeling that all is lost.
The London Film Festival starts from the the 9th of October to the 20th with tickets still available at the festival’s official website.