Article By: Dan Clark
There are many ways to tell a story. Certain stories focus on the use of words to translate unique experiences to general audiences. In rare occasions, like J.C. Chandor’s latest film All is Lost, actions not words convey nearly every aspect of the narrative. In order to articulate such a tale effectively you need superb filmmaking of the highest order, otherwise you are left with a drab avant garde project that leaves the viewer disinterested and bored. With All is Lost Chandor constructs a gripping account of one man’s lone fight for survival. Robert Redford is the best he has been in decades, and shows the true art of acting is an internal delivery of emotional struggle.
There is a great deal of genius in the film’s simplicity. Narratively it can be summed up in only a few sentences. Merely a sailor attempts to stay alive after randomly colliding with a shipping container while alone at sea. With all his electoral equipment damaged he must be resourceful if he is going to survive this treacherous journey. There is no form of backstory here. No use of bookends to add an additional layer of passionate resonance. Simply, it is about one man’s struggle.
Obviously All is Lost is not designed for everyone. With only a scarce amount of dialogue and having the vast majority of that dialogue in the first few moments may make it hard for some to be invested. However, if you remove that inherit requirement you can see this illustrates how true that old saying is; that a picture is worth a thousand words. In those thousand words we see a man’s refusal to fall victim to fate. His motivations are not explicitly told, yet his urge to continue on expresses to us everything we need to know.
Part of what makes this so compelling is Chandor’s unforgiving direction. He tosses, turns, and throws Redford around in ways that make you feel every bruise, bump, and scrape. Without words the camera becomes a vice to illustrate the massive amount of immense danger. Those dangers are ones you would expect. Ferocious storms, lack of nutrition, and the occasional daring sea creature are all obstacles that present themselves. Chador takes those common obstacles and uses them uniquely enthralling ways.
There are many specific moments that standout. Redford slowly climbing the ship’s mast as a glooming storm rumbles in the background makes for a scene of intense urgency. Watching the inside of the vessel spinning around like a carnival ride gone wrong demonstrates the sheer might of the ocean. Death is a looming force waiting to strike, and the opportunities are always there.
Casting the likes of Robert Redford was an ingenious movie. His stoic presence is legendary, and has gone unused for far too long. Redford reminds us that a great actor can use what he is given. There is a determination that evident in his every action. Fear would be an acceptable choice. Considering the situation many would buckle under the weight of the battle that lies ahead. Here fear is used at the right moments. As the frustration builds and situation worsen that stoic presence is altered into a worn down soul of lost hope.
At times it is what All is Lost does not do that makes it stand out. Silence was a potent tool used to demonstrate how alone Redford was in the massive ocean. In moments his only companions were the creaks of the ship and crashing waves. You do wish at times that you had a better idea of what exactly was happening. Redford travels around to ship performing random tasks to keep the ship afloat as the sea is bearing down. Occasionally it was hard to determine if there was an actual point to what he was doing of if it was just an excuse to hype up the tension
Alex Ebert’s score was cleverly placed throughout the film. Similar to the movie it was trimmed down to an elegant ease of simplicity. Never did it overtake what was on-screen; instead it would heighten each action to its appropriate level. Frank G. DeMarco’s and Peter Zuccarini’s cinematography was also outstanding as painted the ocean as this serene of location of quiet beauty that can quickly transform into a garish force of viciousness.
How All is Lost was allowed to be made is an accomplishment within itself. It is hard not to imagine studio heads scoffing at the idea that a movie of this magnitude could work, and that people would have any interest in seeing it. Some may agree with that skepticism, but others can see this as a moviemaking milestone. One that exhibits inspired techniques that are far too absent in today’s movie landscape. All is Lost gets so much out of so little—a true command of cinematic prowess.