It’s always a bold move to cast an entire movie with just one name. It’s happened in the past with success of course, but it can come off as a rather pretentious thing to do, unless you have the right story and the right actor – even I Am Legend and Moon weren’t wholly one man films.
But when your one name is Robert Redford, and you’re presenting a survival drama that casts him as a man lost at sea, the signs should be good right from the very start. That’s pretty much all there is in terms of a synopsis – we are dropped onto Redford’s boat as he wakes up to find he has crashed into a floating storage container and is taking on water, and it all pretty much spirals from there, until he writes the farewell letter-in-a-bottle to an unnamed recipient that forms the prologue of the film from his life-raft.
The film is a grim and rather relentless analogy for the slow, inevitable march towards the grave: every bad thing can and does happen, with almost comical horror, and by the hour mark, you find yourself begging for a shark attack that might put poor Red out of his misery.
Sadly, director JC Chandor misses the opportunity to establish anything like a backstory for Redford’s character – while it is interesting to see the actor carry his own baggage into the film (thanks to that space in the narrative) it might have been more impactful to have seen his reasons for taking on the clearly foolish endeavour of sailing so far at his age. Yes, we can work out he is rather bloody-minded and resilient, and that he has clearly ignored some advice about the trip (hence his creaking reactions to even the most menial of nautical activities) but without some sense of the people left behind, the true tragedy of the situation can’t be fully realised.
But, All Is Lost is a gorgeous, and extremely well shot, including some incredibly engaging sequences when Redford’s lone sailor is dragged into the water, and the choices of shots are hugely evocative in building the sense of genuine threat to his life.
Redford is a good choice, given how familiar we all are with him, and his age and status make him a remarkably interesting casting here – as I say, because the character has no background, we’re almost unconsciously encouraged to feel like this is Redford himself lost at sea. He still has that tangible charm he always had, and an everyman appeal that makes moments of his tragedy truly touching, even if he spends most of the first two thirds stoically refusing to show much emotion.
At the end of the day, it is perhaps a more interesting film than it is entertaining, and though the cop-out ending adds a nice touch to proceedings (if you choose to take it literally) it is still a remarkably grim and stark experience over-all.
This article was first posted on May 22, 2013