ALL IS LOST
Director: J.C Chandor
Screenwriter: J.C Chandor
Runtime: 106 mins
Australian release date: 6 March 2014
Previewed at: Universal Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 11 February 20
The fact that the sole character in J. C. Chandor’s bleak drama on the high seas, All Is Lost, is only ever referred to as ‘our man’ is enough to make you smirk in the dark. However, in this case, ‘our man’ is Robert Redford and he gives what some critics have called the performance of his career. He certainly gives everything he’s got in his battle with Mother Nature when he finds himself at her mercy. On a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, Redford is woken by a loud thump followed by a stream of water leaking into his 39 foot yacht. The Virginia Jean has drifted into a lost shipping container floating in the middle of the sea and the impact has not only created a rather large hole in the hull of the yacht, but also a rather large hole in ‘our man’s’ plans.
All this we see at the film’s outset but we soon learn that the collision happened eight days earlier and from then on the film flashes back over this period. As we sit in the dark, feeling anxious as hell, Redford calmly goes through a number of survival tactics to stay afloat. He has to try and get his navigational equipment and radio working again after they have been drenched, but has no luck. He does manage to deftly patch up the damaged hull, but unfortunately ends up in the path of a nasty storm that spins the Virginia Jean like a clothes-dryer and eventually he has to abandon ship, taking refuge on an inflatable life raft. There he resorts to a sextant and nautical maps to plot his position, relying on the ocean currents to carry him into the path of a major shipping lane. That in itself presents a risk as he is a tiny blob in the ocean compared to the massive container ships that rush by.
Redford is mesmerizing on screen. Now a weathered 77 year-old, he still manages to project an exciting presence, plus he really does look like he’s spent months at sea. The film (thankfully!) has almost no dialogue (it would have lost all tension if he’d started talking to himself) so the camera rests on his every facial expression, relying on the great actor’s skills to convey his emotional state. You feel as if you are physically there with the old sea dog as he methodically works through all his survival strategies. It’s a real mind and body work-out and, as each tactic fails, you get more and more caught up in his predicament.
All Is Lost won a Best Original Score award at the Golden Globes this year for composer Alex Ebert and deservedly so, as the music perfectly accompanies the various dilemmas ‘our man’ encounters, be they waves, sharks or solitude. Redford was overlooked for an Oscar nomination this year and the only nomination for the movie is for Best Sound Editing, which is also well-deserved as the aural effects are spot-on and add much to the sense of isolation. Every creak and groan is enough to cause alarm. This is a good yarn with a great performance and one worth catching. It leaves you suitably rattled and, judging by one critic’s comment after the screening, who declared he was “never going sailing again,” it will make you wonder why anyone would take to the high seas on their own in the first place. Crazy, brave or just plain crazy? For ‘our man’ it certainly is a big price to pay for a bit of peace and quiet.