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All is Lost

October 11, 2014

All is Lost (2013)
Director: J.C. Chandor
Actor: Robert Redford

redford.jpg (312×162)

Synopsis: An unnamed man (Robert Redford) battles the wilds of the Indian Ocean on his own, after the yacht he’s sailing suffers a dangerous puncture from a nearby floating cargo container.

Review: To borrow from baseball parlance, J.C. Chandor goes “two for two” with All is Lost, his superlative follow-up to the intriguing financial meltdown pic, Margin Call. What I detect quite clearly from these two films is that Chandor has an innate understanding of the sentiment of his stories and understands intrinsically how to dramatise that sentiment through the potentials of his medium. In Margin Call, Chandor condenses his ‘state of the nation’, 2008 financial crash polemic into an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ micro-narrative about a day in the life of a failing firm and its various employees. And so for All is Lost, the story of a lone sailor lost at sea, Chandor plays it dead straight – as a raw, elemental tale of a man’s desperately attritional sailing trip, and how an innocuous chain of events as a floating cargo container perforates the boat’s hull and destroys all his electronics and communications, suddenly leaves the sailor continually ‘behind the game’ in terms of contingency measures from thereon in.

What Chandor gets so right is to literally de-Hollywoodise the scenario (no doubt it wasn’t mere chance that led to ultra-Hollywood icon, Robert Redford, being cast in the lead role). Unlike similarly-themed films, Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, which wrapped up in their restricted-crisis parameters familiarly sentimental undertones, Chandor keeps it pared-down and real. I think there’s a cogent logic to that – after all, if you were stranded out in the middle of an inhospitable ocean, on your own, you’d probably be immersed animalistically in doing what you needed to do to survive, and the absence of a social context would preclude the obvious need for tears, tantrums and psychoanalysis. On a personal level, it reminded me of getting robbed at knife-point on a Colombian bus two years ago and being relieved of most of my worldly goods. Surprisingly enough, the situation almost instantly takes on a surreal (or perhaps a better term, ‘hyperreal’) turn, whereby you go into an ultra-practical, survivalist mindset as the events naturally cause you to extract yourself from the crisis step by step. Sure, once or twice Chandor throws his audience a narrative bone – the opening ‘message in a bottle’ voiceover, the subtle but evocative music score, and more spiritual imagery at the end as Redford is adrift in a womb-like life-raft – but Chandor’s rigour and chastity in telling his story without sentiment makes for a suitably wrought and poignant experience by the film’s close. (October 2014)

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