From the Mamet-lite and dialogue heavy Margin Call J.C. Chandor moves onto a very different project for his ‘difficult second album’, the elemental drama All is Lost. Starring just Robert Redford All is Lost is also far removed from the star-studded ensemble cast of Margin Call, offering no other characters beyond Redford – who is billed as simply ‘Our Man’ – and no dialogue at all, just an opening voiceover and a few utterances of “My God” and “Fuck”.
During a prologue, Redford reads in voiceover a letter declaring his situation; that he is low on rations and that “all is lost”. What follows this prologue is what led him to this terrible position, a series of very unfortunate events that leave Our Man stranded.
First he wakes up to discover that water is flowing into his yacht through a hole that has been torn into his ship by an abandoned storage container. Following this collision and after he has made a number of makeshift repairs the yacht hits a storm, sinks, and he is forced to make off on a life raft, adrift and with no land or ships in sight.
The container that hits him is of Chinese origin and carrying a large number of children’s shoes, which slowly float out to sea. The metaphorical potency of the Chinese container hitting the Yacht of a privileged American – we are to presume – and its contents is something that is entirely left hanging in the air as the film continues but one of many aspects that stay with one long after the film has reached its ‘conclusion’.
We are actually given very little to go on at all when it comes to context or backstory with regards to the events we see or Redford’s character. Why is he out on the yacht alone, where is he going, who is the letter to, why does he say sorry in it, are all questions that we never find answers to. But due to the astonishing minimal storytelling that Chandor, who both writes and directs, displays we are left with something far more meaningful and deeper than the answers to simplistic narrative questions.
All is Lost as an experience is gripping, the methodical way in which Our Man approaches every one of the many obstacles to his survival is tense and incredibly compelling, but it is also a surprisingly emotional and heady one-hundred minutes, despite its lack of dialogue and stripped back linear plot.
Our Man’s life is something that he chooses to fight for, something that he never gives up on. His ingenuity helps him find elegant solutions to very difficult situations that he finds himself in but it is his tenacity, his desire to live that constantly wins out. All is Lost reveals and elucidates the fragility of human life and highlights the strength that we have to fight against that fragility.
Concluding on a moment that can be read as literal or more enigmatically All is Lost manages to end in a way that is both emotionally devastating and heartbreakingly touching. Expertly visually crafted, with excellent sound design that envelops the viewer no end, Chandor has crafted an astonishing film with a fine central performance from Redford.