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All Is Lost: Review

December 26, 2013

FestivalsFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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All is Lost is the journey of a lone sailor (Robert Redford) across the Indian Ocean. Directed and written by JC Chandor, it shares certain thematic elements of survival and isolation on the high seas from Life of Pi, but is a spectacle all of its own. The sailor is unnamed and starts the film awoken by a shipping container which has collided with his yacht and produced a leak; he soon finds the damage is more than just superficial and the film becomes a battle of life and death as he encounters more disasters.

As a pessimistic title ‘All is Lost’ definitely sets the tone for the film when every event that hits our hero is determined to break him down, but he is equally determined to survive. This determination in the face of adversity is similar to Gravity where Murphy’s Law (‘everything that can go wrong will go wrong’) was also used; except set in the Indian Ocean. Robert Redford is superb in this film: he is the only character we see and he only has a handful of lines but he draws the audience in to his silent odyssey as he acts to save his yacht from sinking. Later on when all hope seems lost, we see Redford show his acting chops when panic and despair kick in, his yacht sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The movie begins slowly, the leak is merely shrugged off at first and dealt with calmly by our captain, but the flooding has taken its toll on the navigation equipment and threatens to leave him stranded.

Broken equipment soon becomes the least of his worries when he notices a storm in the distance which slowly gets closer, testing his resilience and his survival instinct. It’s only in this second half that we become enthralled in the threat of being lost at sea as the beginning of the film builds so slowly that you may lose interest with only a single plotline to engage in. It was refreshing to not be spoon-fed information like any other blockbuster and the film comes into its own as it prepares you for the climactic ending of a life or death situation.

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The action is exhilarating when the storm arrives, putting the size of the boat into perspective. At 76, Redford isn’t one to shy away from physically demanding roles such as this where he is flung into the sea and battered by the rain. Had someone other than him played the lead role this film may not have had the gravitas that it creates by the end, as every whimper, breath and wince grabs our attention. Eventually, when Redford does talk we get a heartfelt apology to his loved ones for finding himself alone and near death; it is poignant, achieving the tone of despair and hope that runs throughout the film.

Being a film about being abandoned at sea, it harkens to Life of Pi and even Cast Away, but this film is different as our character is silent for most of the time; there is no ‘Richard Parker’ or ‘Wilson’ for him to talk to here. What we do have is an ambient soundtrack composed by Alexander Ebert (frontman for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes) that is unfortunately forgettable but it did work when watching the movie. Ebert sticks to enhancing the film with music rather than overshadowing it.

The tagline may as well be “Gravity on a boat” but that would cheapen the personal journey you are taken on throughout both films. The film promises to reel you in and never let go as you go through disaster after disaster all in the name of survival. You can’t help but lean forward in your seat when you find out whether or not Redford’s character makes it.

All Is Lost premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and it’s out in UK cinemas on Boxing Day

Sunny Ramgolam