The Oscar-nominated director and writer of last year’s potent Wall Steet drama Margin Call has circumnavigated the perils of sophomore filmmaking with All Is Lost. This is J.C. Chandor’s remarkable nautical thriller, plunging its audience into a whirlpool nightmare scenario. In a solo role, Robert Redford is a nameless figure, a stoic seaman sailing through the Pacific roughly 1,700 miles from civilisation before being jolted awake after an abandoned cargo container ruptures a yawning gape in his modest single-berth schooner. After assessing the damage, the marine MacGyver performs some makeshift repairs as severe storm clouds gather at the horizon, his communication and electronic crutches severed under the saturating strike. Soon, he’s in a desperate and intense race for survival.
Aside from a brief opening diary entry read via voiceover, this film is pitched through increasingly choppy waters with a gripping absence of dialogue, a sense of isolation permeating the film’s frantic and expertly taut 100 minutes. The maintenance of the deteriorating scenario is anchored through Redford’s silent and physical performance. This must have been quite a grueling shoot for the 77-year old, tossed through the elements like so much fragile flotsam and jetsam, securing ballast to the enterprise through his quietly noble star charisma, which still illuminates the screen.
In a dramatic coup, there is no dragging backstory, no flashbacks or daydreams as to why our waterlogged protagonist is sequestered before tragedy strikes, no tearful leafing through family albums to reveal children, partners, or associated family. The film is just about one man in a boat in mortal combat with the elements in a straightforward trajectory of depleted resources and growing desperation. It’s a striking choice of design that ultimately yields precious cargo; it firmly punts the film out into metaphorical waters as a tale of human ingenuity and determined endurance, as the man’s perilous threads of survival are plucked and severed one by one, partially via Chandor’s serrated direction. With Gravity entrancing audiences worldwide, All is Lost is a earthbound companion piece with a more terrestrial tangent, dual testaments to the tenuous ties of the mortal coil.
— John McEntee