When you’ve got Robert Redford starring in your movie, that’s really all you need. Sure, having a talented cast is nice, and shooting in exotic, far-flung locales is a perk for everyone involved, but sometimes the best storytelling just comes down to a man and his boat. In writer-director J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, all of Hollywood’s movie-making pageantry is cast aside in favor of a stripped-down style of storytelling that follows one man in his repeated attempts to defy death using nothing but his wits and meager provisions. The solo survivalist angle is a tough task for any actor, but if Redford can’t do it, then no one can. Hit the jump for my review of All Is Lost on Blu-ray.
Chandor dabbles in a couple of movie-making conventions at the very start of the film, setting up the events with a brief bit of exposition before relying on the well-established flashback to take viewers back to a simpler time, a time before a wayward cargo container slams into Redford’s character’s pleasure boat. We don’t know why he’s out in the middle of the open ocean, alone, or why he’s using his last breath to pen an apology – and we will never actually get a definitive answer on any of this – but once the mystery has been set up, we’re hooked.
The majority of the film proceeds to follow Redford’s unnamed character in his attempts to make his way back to a distant shore, first by calmly patching a hole in his yacht, to ultimately sacrificing his last remaining supplies in a desperate hope for rescue. The complications that arise throughout his trial are both frustratingly realistic and fiendishly clever on the part of Chandor. Everything that happens to Our Man could happen to a sailor out to sea, and likely has. The strength of Redford’s performance is that his acting pedigree makes it quiet easy to believe that Our Man is an accomplished sailor who isn’t flustered by the losing hand that fate continually deals him, but rather approaches each challenge in a calm and logical manner. It’s a fascinating performance to observe, with the few words that are eventually spoken ringing all the more powerful for the rest of the film’s lack of dialogue.
Knee-jerk comparisons of All Is Lost will likely bring up Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, or even Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Where Cast Away has its framing story, Life of Pi has its spirituality, and Gravity has its, let’s face it, effects, All Is Lost simply has a man and a boat, and ultimately just a man. Sure, there is a larger slice of life that this man exists in, but we’re not privy to it. There is most certainly a spiritual crisis the man goes through, but it’s not expressed on camera. And yes, the raging storms that toss the man about are played up to great effect, but it’s the man’s attempted survival against the odds that matters here, not the storms themselves. Closer comparisons for All Is Lost, if they help to sway you one way or another, would be Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” or Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”, which pit a man against the elements, but which paint neither with a moral brush. The feature alone is worth a rental at least, though this would be a nice addition to your Redford collection. You can check out Matt’s review of the film here for a second opinion.
Filmmaker Commentary – Feature-length commentary with Chandor, and producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb. Great for fans who want to know more about the nuts and bolts of how the film was made, plus some insider trivia.
“Preparing for the Storm” Featurette (~5 minutes) - A walkthrough from storyboards, to pre-shooting, to production, to special effects for sequences in the film.
“Big Film, Small Film” Featurette (~5 minutes) – A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film.
“The Sound of All Is Lost” Featurette (~15 minutes) – The sound team talks about the process of using sounds to fill in the silence of the film, composing the score, and using production effects.
Vignettes: “The Story”, “The Filmmaker: J.C. Chandor”, and “The Actor: Robert Redford” (~5 minutes each) – Behind-the-scenes featurettes with the cast and crew of the film that chronicle the script-to-screen process of making the film.