The film is an engrossing man vs. nature thriller that, transcending genre boundaries, also triumphs as a stunner about life and death.
An about-face from Chandor’s talky financial-world drama “Margin Call,” this film contains only one actor and almost no dialogue. Also, it is more plot-spare and device-free than the similarly themed “Life of Pi” and “Gravity.” No tiger, marlin or volleyball shares the screen with its soaked, weathered protagonist.
The setting is the Indian Ocean, initially aboard a 39-foot yacht. An opening voiceover indicates that its nameless sailor,, identified in the credits as Our Man, has penned a goodbye letter to loved ones and has experienced disaster.
Chandor then backs up eight days and presents Our Man’s story. It begins when the boat collides with a shipping container, which pierces the yacht’s hull, causing water to rush in. Our Man patches up the problem, but his radio and navigation equipment are destroyed. He sails into a vicious storm. His boat flips.
Forced to abandon his boat, he takes off on a raft, and, using a sextant, sails to a shipping lane, hoping to attract a vessel. Continued bad luck, hunger and exhaustion diminish his hope, however. He acts increasingly desperately.
While naturalistic in tone, the film isn’t without distracting artifice. Alex Ebert’s emotional score blatantly aims to manipulate. A movie-star shot of Redford’s character commanding the wheel doesn’t mesh with the dire predicament.
But this is a high-seas thriller, after all, and Chandor is a proficient storyteller who creates lots from little. He fills the spaces between the plot dots with terrific moments showing determination and ingenuity. He exquisitely juxtaposes the mundane with the mighty.
Redford, of course, figures big. Displaying his trademark charisma and underlying ability to make viewers take him seriously – as a horse whisperer or Bob Woodward meeting Deep Throat in a dark garage – Redford remains a physical and mental force.
Whether his character is climbing a mast or thinking up a way to make seawater drinkable, or, in a nugget moment, looking in the mirror and shaving when he may be about to die, he creates a gripping portrait of one man battling the elements and of the human survival instinct at work.
The cinematography, much of which occurred on the open seas, too, is worthy. See this movie, and see it on the big screen.
All Is Lost
Starring Robert Redford
Written and directed by J. C. Chandor
Running time 1 hour, 47 minutes