Film review: ALL IS LOST, from Built For Speed

Existential drama All Is Lost sees sole cast member Robert Redford play an unnamed yachtsman battling the elements and the threat of starvation and dehydration on a sinking yacht in the Indian Ocean.  As the story of a marooned person struggling for survival, the film evokes comparisons with Gravity and Life of Pi but this is a far more restrained, introspective and more involving film than those two blockbusters. 

Much of the film features Redford quietly and methodically attempting to repair radios and electronic navigation equipment, patching holes in the hull of his boat, pumping sea water from his stricken vessel or hoisting himself precariously up towering masts. In less assured hands these scenes could have been dull but writer/ director J.C. Chandor uses the contemplative silence to create tension, intrigue and a gathering sense of dread. The film’s thoughtful tone and minimalist visual style provide a welcome relief from the brain-pummelling clutter and deafening cacophony of so much contemporary cinema.  Even when Redford is battered by ferocious ocean storms the drama never seems overwrought.

While less frenzied than many contemporary movies, All is Lost is still both visually and aurally striking.  Fine cinematography from Frank de Marco and Peter Zuccarini captures both the small details of Redford’s survival regime and the unnerving vastness of the ocean.  Having been filmed in the giant water tank used in Titanic and with practical effects (that include the destruction of three actual yachts) for the most part supplanting the usual CGI, All is Lost has the visceral feel of a film from the 1970’s.  All is Lost also features a wonderfully immersive multi-layered sound design that captures every creak of the ailing yacht.  Add to that, Alex Ebert’s tasteful and atmospheric score which subtly enhances the film’s melancholic mood. 

In a one man show Redford delivers one his most memorable performances. We learn nothing about this lone yachtsman’s background or why he is on this journey and apart from an increasing sense of desperation, he undergoes little in the way of character development. Usually, a lack of character detail is a disadvantage in a film but here, the fact that we know so little about him benefits the film as it adds a layer of mystery and enhances his aching sense of loneliness.  Also, in what must have been a gruelling shoot, the 77 year old Redford looks remarkably fit, agile and willing to throw himself into some very physical scenes.

All is Lost is a wonderful antidote to the computer generated mayhem of today’s cinema and shows that an adventure story can still be intelligent and moving.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): J.C. Chandor.

Release date: 6th March 2014

Running time: 106 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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