The 'old man and the sea' concept gets amped up to eleven in J.C. Chandor's arresting new survival drama All Is Lost, in which Robert Redford (referred to simply as “Our Man” by the closing credits) struggles to keep a sinking yacht afloat in the Indian Ocean.
Chandor's screenplay, which barely runs 31 pages due to its virtual absence of dialogue, is elegant in its simplicity; a refreshingly radical U-turn from the dense verbosity of his 2011 debut Margin Call. Our man wakes up from a nap on his 30' luxury yacht, the Virginia Jean, to discover water pouring in through a hole in the hull. He must rely on his resourcefulness and stoic determination (albeit one that's slowly ebbing away) as his situation constantly deteriorates from bad to worse to worse yet.
This skeletal premise may not offer much in the way of high-concept story, but is quite effective at pulling the viewer into a dour state of mind. One gets the sense that there's a lot to read between the (unspoken) lines here, although ambiguously so. Perhaps Chandor's use of a discarded shipping container as the object on which our man's ship is initially wrecked suggests that his hopeless scenario is a metaphor for the economic crisis and the irresponsible ignorance of big business, but obviously much is open to interpretation.
Redford gives a largely silent performance that captivates in its behavioral minutia and impresses in its physical daring, forcing the 77-year-old to perform all manner of stunts that would make even a young whippersnapper like myself nervous. He scampers up and down masts, is thrashed by waves, dragged underwater, and even beset by real live sharks! And through it all he barely utters a word, making him is a somewhat impenetrable lead. Redford's characterization is deliberately vague, but is somehow all the more intriguing for it.
It is, after all, very much a film about observation and mindset. Film editor Pete Beaudreau nicely taps into the rhythms of our man's high sea endeavors, from the mundane to the life-threatening, taking care not to waste or overdraw a single image. In order to fully submerge us in his plight, the soundtrack speaks volumes in lieu of Redford. Alex Ebert's appropriately minimalist score, the foley effects, and the production audio (which must have been a real pain in the stern to record on this tricky aquatic shoot) are all assembled in an extraordinary mix headed by sound designer Steve Boeddeker.
*** out of ****