(J.C. Chandor, 2013)
Amongst other things, All Is Lost plays like a direct reaction to writer-director J.C. Chandor's debut, the talky stock market drama Margin Call. That film was full of characters and sodden with dialogue in impersonal created spaces - offices, corridors, automobiles.
All Is Lost features virtually no dialogue. And the majority of it takes place in the open, on the vastness of the ocean.
Robert Redford plays the nameless protagonist, awoken aboard his yacht in the middle of the Indian Ocean by a collision with a floating shipping container. A gaping hole in the side of his boat is letting in water. He acts quickly, ingeniously escaping the container, and sets about making repairs. Aside from an opening voiceover wherein he apologises and says he will miss people, all that we know about Redford's character we learn from observing him doing things: he is utterly defined by his actions. He climbs the mast, pumps out the cabin, eats from a can, smiles at a sunset, falls asleep while reading, tries to fix the radio, goes overboard but survives...this all places a heavy burden on Redford as performer, and he is perhaps the best he has ever been here; telling us all we need to know through sighs and wrinkled scowls as his situation gets progressively worse from scene to scene...
Chandor's story is wonderfully grim. Hope is offered to his hero on a few occasions, then brutally crushed. The logic with which things fall apart is similarly precise. There are a few poetic asides - Chandor occasionally pulls away from the action on the boat to show us a view from below - this tiny craft bobbing in the immensity of the sea. We see shoals of fish swim nearby. Redford scans the horizon for another vessel - he is dwarfed by the expanse of water, the hugeness of the sky above, his struggle for survival rendered petty and small by the magnificence of nature itself.
This potent, utterly gripping survival tale works completely as a narrative experience, but it is also simple enough to offer many different allegorical interpretations. The ambiguity of the ending only emphasises this further.
Ultimately though All Is Lost establishes Chandor as an interesting young American director, and offers Redford his first great role in years.