All Is Lost – Movie Review

Silence.  Sweet, glorious silence.  That’s the defining feature of this sea-faring, survivor drama which pits Robert Redford (known in the film as “Our Man”) against Mother Nature’s brutal, endless ocean.  Silence truly is golden in J.C. Chandor’s second feature with a screenplay comprising of less than 30 words of dialogue, but filled with vivid, remarkable action and beautifully realised tension.


There is a common screenwriting gimmick littered throughout many forgettable Hollywood blockbusters known as “exposition” which usually involves someone or something informing the viewer of what is happening, why it is happening, and how it should be resolved.  This device allows the story to move forward without having to go into any substantial depth regarding the motivations or emotional purpose of the characters.  Good writers, however, show, not tell and All Is Lost plays out with this weight of action balanced on causality.  Rather than being told what Our Man is doing, you are constantly asking yourself, “Now, why did he do that?”, with the answer being revealed somewhere down the line as the cause and effect play out and Redford struggles against the elements after his solo-manned sailing boat is irreparably damaged by a stray shipping container.


Ironically, Chandor’s previous film, Margin Call (2011), is the polar opposite of All Is Lost in many key ways. It’s a dialogue heavy, financial drama looking at the last 24 hours of a large, collapsing financial institution and features a vast number of characters who are brilliantly drawn and intensely acted by the wonderful cast including Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore and Zachary Quinto.  The confines of the boardrooms and narrow halls of Margin Call along with the 24 hour time scale, superbly contrast the continuous ocean and almost endless, dreamlike journey that Redford experiences on the haunting sea.


Robert Redford really pins the whole film together, with his portrayal of the ordinary man in an extraordinary situation deserving a lot more credit than he has been given, surprisingly not being nominated by the Academy this year.  The 77 year old will unlikely receive another role with such strength and depth, and his poignant, emotional interpretation of Our Man could well be seen as the perfect swansong to a wonderful career.



As for director J.C. Chandor, it looks like the start of a very promising career.  The huge contrast between his Oscar nominated Margin Call and this skilfully paced, nerve wracking, survival drama, shows a writer/director with a broad range of ability and a talent for making unique, skilfully meditative stories. His future is bright, and with All Is Lost he has emerged as one of the few authentically exciting directors working today.

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