Reviews are coming in from Cannes for J.C. Chandor’s (“Margin Call”) second feature, “All Is Lost,” a virtually dialogue-free adventure starring Robert Redford as a 70ish man battling the ocean elements solo on his boat. Reactions are largely positive, praising Redford’s “tour de force” performance and Chandor’s existential direction, while dissenters wish Godspeed to the film’s languid pace — that “a shark attack might put poor Redford out of his misery.” Roundup below.
J.C. Chandor’s flashy directorial debut “Margin Call” contained a complicated plot involving financial turmoil, an ensemble of name actors and numerous locations. His followup, “All Is Lost,” takes place at the complete opposite end of the production scale: Robert Redford spends its entire duration fighting for his life while lost at sea, hardly speaking at all, and barely given much definition. While simplistic to describe, however, the movie is an impressively realized work of minimalist storytelling that foregrounds Redford’s physicality more than any other role in his celebrated career. His performance defines the movie to an almost shockingly experimental degree.
As close to pure existential cinema as American filmmaking
is likely to get these days, “All Is Lost” finds writer-director J.C. Chandor
decisively avoiding the sophomore slump with a picture that could scarcely be
more different from his 2011 debut, “Margin Call.” An impressively spare,
nearly dialogue-free stranded-at-sea drama that strips characterization down to
basic survival instinct, this emotionally resonant one-man showcase for Robert
Redford faces a fair number of marketing challenges, given its audacious
minimalism and proximity to a much splashier castaway adventure, “Life of Pi.”
Redford delivers a tour de force performance: holding the
screen effortlessly with no acting support whatsoever. After a period of
scaling back his acting work, to accommodate directing and the Sundance
festival, he now appears to be re-emerging energised. His advancing years only
add to its subtlety: the difficulties he has hauling down the sail, or righting
his dinghy, give his labours a frisson of fear and uncertainty a younger model
would not. All may be lost for the boat, and very possibly the entire US, but
on this evidence, certainly not for Redford himself.
JC Chandor’s remarkable second feature (after 2011’s Margin
Call) is a story of a man lost at sea. There is only one actor (Robert Redford
as the sailor) and no dialogue at all outside the short voice-over at the
beginning of the film and the expletive that Redford yells in the depths of his
Nonetheless, the film (screening out of competition in
Cannes) has such rhythm and intensity that it makes utterly compelling viewing.
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
Robert Redford keeps the film afloat, even as his character
has no such luck with his boat, in All Is Lost, a rugged, virtually
dialogue-free survival-at-sea story that sustains attention against
considerable odds. Some may dub it Life of Pi without the tiger, but while the
stranded seafarer situation is the same, the intent and tone are decidedly