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USA 2013
Directed by
J C Chandor
106 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

All Is Lost

Synopsis: A unnamed man (Robert Redford) survives 8 days alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean after a shipping container rams into his yacht.

Although I thought J.C. Chandor's debut feature, Margin Call considerably over-rated, my hat is off to him for this his follow-up. As a formal exercise it doesn’t have the immediacy of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, another film dealing with a desperate solitary struggle for survival but it is nevertheless a gripping film. A largely wordless affair that doesn’t call on flashbacks, fantasy or special effects to embellish its premise it is the stripped down, procedural antidote to Life Of Pi.

Shipwrecks have long been a popular literary device for figuring man’s insignificance in the face of indifferent nature, often with a sub-theme of the folly that brought him to such a pass as huge waves smash his ship to smithereens and a family’s love seems lost forever.  Chandor’s script sticks close to this model but what makes it refreshing is the low key approach and the close focus on its man.

Although there is a well-handled big storm sequence, Chandor does not set out to shock and awe us with seat-of-the-pants action and traditional Hollywood heroics but rather concentrates on his protagonist’s way of dealing with his situation. When the film starts Redford’s lone sailor is relatively unphased by the water gushing into the yacht. He sets about repairing the breach and getting things shipshape with stoic calm. It is a quality that sustains him through the growing desperation of his predicament but it is also one which he finds difficult to sustain as he becomes physically and psychologically worn down. Redford does a magnificent job of portraying his character with nothing more than expression and body language. At 77 years of age he certainly looks like he’s weathered a few storms but he gives a performance of compelling integrity that never strikes a false note.

Although I found myself wont to question minor technical details like how certain maps and instruments remained dry and why Redford remained so clean-shaven throughout, even when on his raft, this is the sort of film in which the rigours of production deserve some kind of credit as does Alex Ebert’s music which works well to develop the visuals.

Personally I would have ended the saga with the penultimate scene as it is far more consistent with the trajectory of the narrative but that is perhaps too much to ask even of an American film which is, by and large, refreshingly free of Tinseltown embellishments.




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