Margin Call director, J.C. Chandor takes quite a different direction with this second film, All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford as a nameless man who is lost at sea and fighting for survival. Where as Margin Call was heavy with dialog, All Is Lost experiments with other forms of communication, from the sounds of nature to the thoughts inside the man’s head that we do not hear, but that we can imagine from the facial and physical queues Redford uses to portray them.
At first this description might seem to recall the role of Tom Hanks in cast away Castaway, except Chandor’s and his crew faced the added challenge of filming the movie entirely on water, and the struggles this man faces actually feel closer to the plight of the traveling sailors in the recently released film Kon Tiki. Redford’s man is even on a similar path in the West Indian Ocean as they were, and while the added company and dialog in Kon Tiki make creating an impactful dramatic narrative, Redford’s performance, along with the music and cinematography, pull off a similar dramatic effect.
It’s clear Chandor pulled inspiration for All Is Lost from Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”. The film takes place over the course of 8 days following the initial discovering of the leak, and is a one-man study of perseverance and a will to survive. It is literally man against nature, and Chandor is sure to demonstrate the reality of how small and insignificant we are as human beings when we come face to face with the power of such a thing as the sea.
The man is able to mend the leak, and all is well, at least for the moment. We watch him eat, sleep and think. At one point he even shaves, perhaps as a means to do something routine and normal in this chaotic situation – but this guy just can not catch a break, and eventually after making it through several storms, he encounters one so violent that it tips the boat completely over, and he is forced to go on the life raft to service.
Redford carries the film despite having little dialog aside from a voiceover at the beginning of the film, and a few outbursts of anger due to frustration. The waves, sounds of thunder, rain and wind of the heavy storms Redford and the ship must endure, takes the place of dialog, while instrumental music is used to create an added emotional pull, making the score a crucial element of the film. Lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Alex Ebert, composed the music, and it lacks any of the traditional piano notes typically included in scores of this nature. Instead Ebert uses a variety both traditional and non-traditional instruments including a synthesizer, and crystal and Tibetan bowls.
The seascape and the wildlife also play a role. The camera pans out to show the vastness of the sea, adding to the theme of hopelessness that weighs down on the man as he struggles to fight against the temptation to give up, despite the dire circumstances. Along with shots from above, there are also shots from below, which were filmed by a camera crew that dove down more than 60 feet to capture the footage. These scenes include shots of smaller harmless schools of fish and also a school of swarming barracudas, and even a dozen terrifying sharks lurking just below the surface of the man’s raft.
Chandor’s film is a character study and one that could only succeed with an actor with Redford’s talent. It was a risky role for the seventy-five year old actor to take on, but he makes the film work. Not only was it was it a risk in part because it was different – with a script containing no dialogue and only 60 pages of prose – but also because it was not an easy movie to film, and when you see Redford’s character banging around the ship, it tugs at you not only because of the old man, but because it is Redford himself, still fighting to work and do what he loves regardless of his age, and that is another a big element of the film’s allure. There are times this character’s frustrations will make you want to get up and walk out of the film because how could it get any worse for this man, but something causes us to stick it out, and like the old man, to remain hopeful even when All Is Lost.