Robert Redford is the sole actor in All Is Lost, a film with very little dialogue, which depicts the ordeal of a man lost at sea. Venturing on a solo cruise, Redford’s character finds himself in a horrendous situation where he is forced to fight for survival. As the only person on screen, he is entirely alone, stranded in the middle of the sea aboard a damaged boat. Redford produces a terrific performance as a man desperate to survive a treacherous predicament, where the inevitable conclusion seems to be only a matter of time.
Considering Redford’s prosperous career, it seems only fitting that he gets to be a sole cast member in a film. However, it’s a bold and ambitious choice from the film’s director, J. C. Chandor. Apart from a short voice-over at the beginning, barely any actual words are spoken throughout the rest of the film. If this isn’t peculiar enough, Redford’s character has no backstory whatsoever. We don’t know why he is on this solo cruise, or anything about his life before this dangerous venture. Also, we don’t even know the man’s name, as it’s never mentioned.
Everything about the man is shrouded in mystery and strangely, the lack of knowledge seems to benefit the film, making it much more unique and engaging. The question of “Who is this man?” degrades in importance, as the film is about the current moment, what is happening here and now, and the lengths one is willing to go in order to survive.
Unlike a lot of survival or disaster films, All Is Lost unfolds from the very moment that the crisis occurs. J. C. Chandor avoids any build-up and character development, so we spend no time getting to know the protagonist, as the story simply begins with the character awakening to find his boat engulfed with water. He soon learns that his boat has been damaged by a shipping container, resulting in a gaping hole in the boat which has caused the flooding. This is the first in a long line of problems that leave the protagonist literally fighting for his life.
There is nothing flashy about All Is Lost, as it has a very distinct sense of realism. The overly dramatic catastrophes you would see in a Hollywood film do not appear here. Although we desperately hope that somehow Redford’s character will be saved, the film never reassures us that there is any chance that this man will survive. He is thousands of miles away from land, so any chance of rescue is incredibly unlikely. The viewer is immersed into the struggle, but we are never positioned too closely with Redford. The film keeps us at a distance from the character’s conflicts, positioning us as onlookers.
All Is Lost proves that sometimes less really is more. In terms of narrative and plot, there isn’t much going on. It’s a minimal and simplistic film, that still manages to be dazzling at the same time. The film relies almost exclusively on emotion and Redford excellently conveys every nuance of his emotions and feelings. Although Redford’s acting may come across as one dimensional, as the character has no backstory, he gives a great performance nonetheless. It’s a difficult task to be able carry a film without barely saying any actual words.
All Is Lost is an intense and highly dramatic film, with a great actor at the centre. You’ll have to watch and find out if the film’s conclusion complies with its title.
Quoted: “All is lost here, except for soul and body, that is, what’s left of them, and a half day’s ration.”
Directed and written by: J.C. Chandor
Star: Robert Redford
Distributed by: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions
Run Time: 106 min