PSA: At Frame Rates, we don’t like to reveal spoilers in our reviews. However, in the case of All Is Lost, it is impossible to discuss the movie without giving away the premise. Therefore, the following review will talk about the premise in detail, which in itself is a spoiler, but will not give away the finer plot points of the film.
After his boat collides with a stricken freight container, a seasoned sailor must not only battle the elements, but also fight the acceptance of mortality, in body and mind.
After 480 minutes of burning mind calories at work, one of the last things I want to do on a Monday evening is spend time questioning my own existence and attitude to mortality. Thankfully, rarely does a movie with such a delicate approach to storytelling deliver such a powerful message as the one I drew from All Is Lost.
The main thing to point out about All Is Lost, aside from a monologue at the beginning, is the complete lack of dialogue throughout. It is a bold move from writer/director, J.C. Chandor, and while his direction is precise, and his writing is compelling, it is because of Robert Redford’s on-screen gravitas that the silence works; he is called ‘Our Man’ in the screenplay, and his isolation begins to provide a insight into his nature. He is able to convey the smallest nuances of emotion by just literally existing in front of us; when his boat starts flooding, he goes about fixing it, and this happens throughout the film. By revealing nothing of his character, he actually reveals so much because we are made to think; about his past, why he is out on his own in the sea, and so on.
Some have commented on the movie’s lack of sailing realism, or complained about the seafaring techniques of the film’s protagonist. Only the most cynical of movie viewers would not accept the finer, more subtextual, aspects of the movie, and I feel these commenters have completely missed the point of this film. It’s not a film about sailing, but a story of survival and mortality that actually discusses its themes more successfully than Gravity; despite being absolutely gripping, the story and screenplay was the weakest aspect of Cuaron’s latest release. All Is Lost manages to say so much more about human perseverance, and the strengths and weaknesses of the human spirit, without actually saying a thing.
One of the greatest achievements of All Is Lost is the fact it played entirely with my expectation of action/disaster movies. I was constantly second-guessing the story, thinking that we’d have a twist or that there would be a Hollywoodised moment of peril, but the realism on screen was refreshing. Every movement, every action taken by Our Man was logical. As we got further into acts two and three, I began to understand the character’s intelligence as he found ways to keep afloat; it was like watching a machine work.
The technical aspects of the film were fantastic, and definitely complimented the clever, mature storytelling. As there is no dialogue, the camerawork, cinematography and post-production (editing and CGI) have to be compelling; All Is Lost had some excellent uses of first-person perspective to convey distance, underwater shots, and some majestic long shots of schools of fishes dancing below Our Man’s boat. The sound design was also absolutely superb; I felt genuinely cold during the storms, and appreciated the moments of silent tension being cut through by the delicate sounds of water colliding and lapping against the innards of the stricken boat.
The Oscars have been and gone, but it surprises me that this movie was overlooked in more categories (it did receive a nomination for Best Achievement in Sound Editing). At 77, Redford should have been nominated for Actor in a Leading Role, if not solely for putting his body through the runners in this film. I do think this is not your average action movie, and is more art house in style and tone, but I do recommend it regardless, as it reached into the deepest corners of my own fear of dying, and made me consider the lengths to which I would go to stay alive.