Film review: All Is Lost

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For someone who has been a prominent advocate for challenging, independently minded filmmaking for nearly three decades now via his Sundance Film Institute and accompanying festival, Robert Redford hasn’t really challenged himself much as an actor since his 1970s heyday.

All Is Lost (PG)

Picture: PA

Picture: PA

Directed by: JC Chandor

Starring: Robert Redford

* * *

In All Is Lost, however, he seems to be making up for churning out a few too many bland matinee idol performances in middle- brow Hollywood pap such as The Horse Whisperer and An Unfinished Life.

With barely a line of dialogue and no co-stars to react against, he’s the sole focal point in this doom-laden survival epic about a wealthy man who wakes up on his yacht to discover the hull has been breached by an errant shipping container that has fallen off the back of a cargo ship. Miles from the nearest shipping lanes, and with rapidly failing equipment, he’s suddenly facing the prospect of dying at sea and, for the next 100 minutes or so, writer/director JC Chandor (Margin Call), keeps us up close and personal with Redford as his nameless character contends with his sinking boat.

Viewed as a sort of aquatic variation on Gravity, the film has a similar purity of intent, even if it’s not quite as adept at creating similar levels of tension. Nevertheless, with little opportunity to provide any expositional clues as to who this guy is, Redford and Chandor are good at defining the character through the protagonist’s desperate actions.

The boat is quickly assailed by water and we get an immediate sense of how serious the situation is as he painstakingly attempts to preserve and then purify enough drinking water to quench his thirst. Indeed, everything that can go wrong does and even something as seemingly simple as casting a fishing line in the ocean in an effort to hook some fish brings with it serious consequences.

Chandor is good at conveying the vastness of the ocean, and at making subtle points about globalisation. Indeed, given his protagonist has clearly benefited significantly from a system in which wealth flows upwards, his fate feels like a bad cosmic joke. It’s too bad, then, that Chandor blows it with a disappointing ending that doesn’t do justice to the performance that Redford – face weather-beaten, eyes full of anxiety – gives for the duration of the movie.

ALISTAIR HARKNESS

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