Try to Find "All is Lost"
“All is Lost’s” director and writer J. C. Chandor (“Margin Call”) has brought us his nautical survival story amongst a summer of survival movies. The movie follows in the footsteps of “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips” but what makes “All is Lost” stand out is that it is one man (Robert Redford) fending for himself. He doesn’t have anyone to assist him nor does he have the means to communicate his condition. It is the same premise as “Titanic” but on a much smaller scale. Mr. Chandor’s direction allows us to be at the side of The Man throughout his ordeal which creates claustrophobia and builds tension.
The screenplay, written by Mr. Chandor, consists of one word of dialogue. The whole movie is a throwback to the silent era, when a filmmaker had to tell a story through images. Mr. Chandor shows us enough clues to get a sense of who this man is. But Mr. Chandor doesn’t leave us any time to ponder questions. Within the first minute we’re aware of water leaking into the yacht. It’s man versus nature and we know who has the upper hand in that battle.
“All is Lost” is a mystery as well as a survival movie. There is no indication of why the man is in the middle of the Indian Ocean alone. We have to develop our own assumptions which come from The Man himself. The strength of the film rests on the performance of The Man, which is to say, Mr. Redford. Mr. Redford is great casting. He has the gravitas that allows us to put our faith in him. The scars of experience are etched in his face. But he is also a master of his craft. Unaided by the script – he doesn’t even talk to himself – he has to show the audience who this character is. It is evident that for a sailor he is a wily veteran. He never panics. He handles every new crisis that pops up assuredly. At one point, when his predicament looks bleak, he sits down, pops open a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue and throws back the shots with water up to his knees and a storm raging outside. We know we’re with a survivor.
Mr. Redford’s wonderful performance is in part due to the directing and writing of Mr. Chandor. Mr. Chandor creates a film that starts as a slow bubble and grows into a boiler. The yacht itself couldn’t feel or look more secure. It is beautiful on the outside and The Man has it furnished better than most inland houses. But as the crisis grows those privileged possessions must be rid of for survival’s sake. In between storms and accelerated flooding there are times when The Man is able to catch his breath and he does so with an almost resolute acceptance of his situation. Each new catastrophe that is piled on builds a sense of dread but watching how calm The Man handles it creates a sense that he will get out of this mess alive. These are two opposing feelings. But they make the story riveting. That’s good filmmaking.