Robert Redford has been out of the spotlight for quite some time now. He might not have ever been the most prolific actor working but he was far from work shy. An active and reputable stretch of work from 1960 up to the 90s eventually began to lag and now it’s not uncommon for him to go a few years without a role, but here he is with one of his most impressive performances to date. And he barely says a word. All is Lost is the story of a nameless yachtsman who befalls an unfortunate collision with a shipping crate that sparks a whole series of incidents which stretch from intimidating to calamitous as the film goes on.
As mentioned, this film is very light on dialogue, with the exception of a small nugget of retrospective opening narration, the odd errant utterance, cry for help and what must surely be one of the most dramatic and emotionally charged F-bombs in cinematic history. With so little speech and such a sparing use of close-up camerawork, Redford does brilliantly to draw us in. His character, only referred to in the credits as ‘Our Man’, is willfully mysterious and carries a gait of emotional drought, he barely even seems surprised initially when disasters begin to befall him, taking each problem as it comes with a resourcefulness that is tested more and more harshly until finally cracks begin to show. What little sentimentality he conveys has to be searched for, it’s infrequent and never obvious, but the moment when he finally accepts the notion that he might not survive this, well that’s as clear as day.
As a visual piece, the film is as sumptuous as it is gripping, the camera moves in sickly heaves as the yacht is buffeted by stormy seas, delights in ascending into wide aerial shots that remind us just how alone Our Man is and often dips below the waterline to deliver some of the most serene and harrowing underwater cinematography you’ll ever see. In answer to that nagging question at the back of your mind, yes there is a bit with sharks, but this is movie-land, in movie-land the sea is about 60% sharks, 25% pirates, 11% massive storms that only last 5 minutes with the rest being evenly divided between actual water and metaphors. Thankfully, the sharks aren’t overused and their presence is little more than a well-timed reminder of the dwindling hope of survival.
The isolation of the circumstances, the hostility of the environment and the prevailing sense of lost hope certainly draw comparisons to Gravity and it makes you wonder how many hostile environments are still awaiting their crowning thriller (one set in a cave or the jungle might be interesting) but the messages behind each starkly differ. Gravity questions the very essence of what it means to be human while All is Lost explores the fragility of human life and the ways we deal with death when it looms so close. One thing they both definitely share is a taught, thrilling pace and an ability to grip you from minute 1. All is Lost is a hard, stark, overwhelming piece of cinema that will probably put you off sailing for life, but you’ll come out of it breathless, emotionally exhausted and very entertained.
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