BIFF Review – All Is Lost (USA, 2013)

web_all_is_lost

“I’m sorry. I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried. I think you would all agree that I tried. To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right. But I wasn’t.”

With these few words, so begins All Is Lost, an incredible film about one man’s struggle to survive against the biggest odds imaginable. ‘Our Man’, played by Robert Redford, is sailing solo off the coast of Sumatra when a wayward shipping container tears a hole in the hull of his yacht. As he battles against the elements to survive against the odds, he faces death at every obstacle he encounters but never gives up hope.

This is a remarkable film that’s at once both familiar and groundbreaking. It’s a film with one character, set in one location, and with only a handful of spoken words – yet All is Lost is never once monotonous or lacking due to its absolutely precise pacing. Left to communicate with only his gestures and expressions, Robert Redford is incredible in the role. His presence inhabits every frame of the film and it’s a performance that absolutely requires some awards kudos. The photography from Frank DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini is gorgeous, capturing Our Man’s isolation with beautiful detail, and the score by Alex Ebert (of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) knows where it needs to be at the right moments; it’s poignant without being overbearing.

This is writer-director J.C. Chandor’s second feature film, after his 2011 star studded debut Margin Call. But they couldn’t be more different – Margin Call is a very wordy drama about the onset of the financial crisis, while All Is Lost uses dialogue at its most minimal; after all, what do you say when there is no one to talk to? It’s a testament to Chandor’s skill as a filmmaker that he has pulled off All is Lost with complete ease, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

All Is Lost will inevitably draw comparisons from a number of films – open water adventure Kon-Tiki, shipwreck drama Cast Away, spiritually charged Life of Pi, and the story of a man caught between a rock and a hard place – 127 Hours. But perhaps the most fitting comparison is another film from 2013 – space epic Gravity. Both films share an economy of dialogue and narrative; essentially they are both one character’s struggle to survive against seemingly insurmountable odds. With this comparison in mind, All Is Lost becomes even more impressive when you learn it was made for a mere $8.5 million, while Gravity’s budget is estimated to be $100 million.

There’s really nothing new to be found in All Is Lost, but it’s a remarkable cinematic achievement that deserves to be recognised. It has to be seen to be believed.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

All Is Lost screened at – and was reviewed as a part of – the 2013 Brisbane International Film Festival.