All Is Lost - Blu-ray Review

'All Is Lost would not be the rich story it is without Redford at its centre'.

Comparisons between Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost feel pleasingly apt. Both films deal with a primarily isolated protagonist struggling against seemingly insurmountable circumstances and situations which human beings are not naturally equipped to deal with.

Without taking anything away from Sandra Bullock, where her performance was an excellent part of Cuarón’s superb whole, Robert Redford is regularly the defining factor in the success of Chandor’s film. All Is Lost would not be the rich story it is without Redford at its centre. The veteran actor’s performance as the unnamed sailor throughout is flawless, but there’s more to the role than just superb acting. This is a part which requires age to work; had Chandor cast an actor in their fifties (such as George Clooney) or even their sixties (Liam Neeson, perhaps) then All Is Lost would not be the success it is. The seventy-seven year old Redford therefore fits the role comprehensively, giving the main character the experience and stoicism - qualities both which are eventually tested to their absolute limits - to make his journey, both physical and emotional, a genuinely compelling tale.

Chandor’s opening act demonstrates these qualities almost too well. Redford’s character deals with the first problem he is faced with in the opening scenes with such resignation, forbearance and selflessness that Chandor’s film actually threatens to become uneventful - even dull - at a few points. Looking at the opening act’s place in relation to the whole film however, it’s an entirely necessary and well-paced introduction to the unnamed sailor, allowing us to appreciate all the more everything he goes through as the film progresses.

All Is Lost is undeniably at its most awe-inspiring during the two spectacular storm scenes, both of which are breathtakingly shot and demonstrate some of the very finest cinematic sequences of recent years. The calculated self-control of Redford’s character briefly threatens to shift into arrogance - his first act after spotting the oncoming storm is to calmly have a shave - but the actor’s impressive performance, during scenes that would be physically demanding of a man half his age, makes sure you are consistently willing him to get through all Chandor’s narrative throws at him.

The director’s choice to make much of All Is Lost completely dialogue free is a smart one, enhancing the realism and intimacy of the unnamed sailor’s experiences as well as allowing Redford’s body language and expressions to become all the more powerful. The fact that speech is absent from most of the film however makes the film’s opening prologue-like scene stick out even more after watching, layered as it is with narration by Redford which adds a small amount of extra detail to what little we know about his character, but not much else.

Stylistically, this short opening sequence also feels different to everything else on offer; considering how superfluous and disconnected it feels to the rest of the film, you can’t help but wonder if All Is Lost would have been even stronger without it. But, when push comes to shove, the fact that the minutes-long prologue is the main relative weak point in an hour-and-three-quarters-long film is testament to just how excellent the majority of what Chandor achieves throughout All Is Lost really is.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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