J.C. Chandor’s follow up to his debut Margin Call, All Is Lost is without a doubt easier to summarize than any other film playing at the London Film Festival. It only takes five words: Robert Redford on a boat. That’s all. In the beginning of the movie, we meet a man sailing alone on the Indian Ocean. Soon thereafter, while he is asleep, his boat crashes into a roaming container full of sneakers, which must have fallen of a ship, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the ship. Subsequently, everything that could go wrong goes wrong and when the inevitable storm hits, we watch Redford’s struggle for survival.
There is no dialogue. Except for a short narration at the beginning and perhaps a handful of lines, there is no monologue. There is no backstory for the main character either; we don’t even learn what he is doing in the middle of the ocean. Walking into the screening of All Is Lost, I was dreading it as I couldn’t imagine it working. Coming in year which for some reason is filled with quality seafaring movies (Life of Pi, Kon-Tiki, A Hijacking, Captain Philips), my expectations were limited.
I was wrong. It is exactly the simplicity of All Is Lost which makes it work. That and Robert Redford. Casting was absolutely vital for this movie, and they got it spot on. It had to be someone familiar to audiences, so that they can relate to him immediately, and it had to be someone with an intense stare. Redford delivers a spectacular, extremely physical performance and shows that he is one fit 77-year-old. If there is any justice, All Is Lost will give the legendary man his only second (!) and well deserved acting nomination at the Oscars.
It would however be wrong to give all the credit to Robert Redford. Writer-director J.C. Chandor creates an intense, exciting and scary ride, which will keep audiences on the edge of their seats for two hours. The visuals are strong, and the deafening sound is terrifying. The only way All Is Lost could be more intense would be if cinemas put air blowers in front of the screen and sprayed sea-water at the audience.
All Is Lost may be a simple survival story, an acting vehicle, which we all have seen many times, but it’s executed with great skill. It is one of the best thrillers and most cinematic experiences of the year, and should be seen for Redford’s performance alone.