Part nautical adventure, part existential drama, writer-director J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost represents another career-defining performance from movie icon Robert Redford — no mean feat considering his is a five-decade career decorated by unforgettable turns in such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, All the President’s Men, The Natural, and The Horse Whisperer. While Chandor’s movie as a whole doesn’t rise to the level of those lofty predecessors, it does mark a strong sophomore follow-up to his film-making debut, the Wall Street thriller Margin Call (2011).
Redford stars as an unnamed sailor (referred to as Our Man in the credits) on a solo journey across the Indian Ocean in a modest yacht. The film opens on a down note — a chance collision with a cargo container — and steadily gets worse for Our Man as a series of unfortunate events has him fighting to survive on the open seas, struggling to maintain the will to live as his options and hope of rescue dwindle.
Chandor challenges himself, Redford, and the audience by foregoing voice-over narration (aside from an opening quotation); with no back story and only a few lines spoken throughout the entire 106-minute movie, Redford has only his physicality to convey his character’s thoughts and emotions. With nary a human being, beach ball, or CGI tiger in sight, he is adrift in more ways than one, and he fearlessly embraces Our Man’s situation, fully engaging the vulnerability of a man alone in an extreme environment and cycling through coolness under pressure, defiance, frustration, despair, and points in between. Exceptionally fit for a man of 77, he also throws himself into many of the film’s more physically demanding scenes.
s a developing writer and director, Chandor shows an impressive amount of confidence and restraint, avoiding far-fetched scenarios, heavy-handed drama, and lavish effects; he’s content to let his simple tale unfold as it must, and to allow his leading man to follow his instincts in fleshing out his role. The result is elegant.