All Is Lost

Review by Sophie Monks Kaufman @sopharsogood

Directed by

JC Chandor

Starring

Robert Redford

Anticipation.

The spirit of Hemingway finds a new vessel.

Enjoyment.

Mesmerised by the water, less so by the man navigating its waves.

In Retrospect.

There’s something powerful lurking in the deep.

Robert Redford gives it his all in director JC Chandor’s sedate seafaring drama.

We’re used to watching movie boats go down in dramatic sequences featuring terrible weather and max yelling and clanging. Less seen but more realistic (probably — this writer has never sunk at sea) is a man quietly focusing on patching up an angry bite in an otherwise functional vessel, life or death boiled down to the basic physical issue of plugging a hole.

In this simple story of one man fighting for his life, writer and director JC Chandor, shows great understanding of the basic structural elements of a survival drama and lets them stand starkly, as minimally as the husk of a shipwreck.

As ‘Our Man’ Robert Redford finds himself a long way from sun dancing immersed in ocean water after ship, the Virginia Jean, knocks into an incomprehensible bit of floating metal. One bump is all it takes to set up a story with such sedate pacing that it’s easier to tune in and out of the severity of the stakes.

Water is a hypnotic element and as it pours into the bottom of the boat saturating Our Man’s belongings and destroying his communications technology, there is none of the immediate peril presented by monstrous or psychotic danger. Chandor creates a calm atmosphere where the most seductive idea is of giving in to the pull of Davy Jones’ locker. Joining lost heroes like Captain Ahab and Jack Dawson can’t be that bad can it?

But Our Man is stoic, shuffling through the motions of self-preservation at a fitting pace for a 77-year-old. Redford’s strawberry blonde mop with its striking artificiality detracts from the realism. His bouncing bonce is just the tip of the problem. Rather than feeling like we’re adrift with an imperiled oldster, it feels like we’re adrift with Robert Redford, an icon of movie history with — let’s face it — the restrained expressive techniques of a confident idol. When new dangers appear, Redford frowns like a man wondering what those damn kids are doing on his porch rather than someone contending with the reaper.

In this lo-fi waterworld, all instruments needed to have been tuned and Redford is a bum note. Great moments exist, like when Our Man gets to deliver one perfect word while an ambiguous ending throws everything into interesting relief. It would be unfair to say all is lost in these parts but the motor gives before the 105 minutes have dripped past.

Published 26 Dec 2013

Tags: JC Chandor Robert Redford

Anticipation.

The spirit of Hemingway finds a new vessel.

Enjoyment.

Mesmerised by the water, less so by the man navigating its waves.

In Retrospect.

There’s something powerful lurking in the deep.

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