Character development, story and any reason to care are lost in a film salvaged by a great performance.
To begin my 2016 Film-A-Day challenge I chose to watch All Is Lost, a ‘tense’ and ‘gripping’ film about Robert Redford getting stuck on a boat. Yes. That is the entire story of the film, unless Robert Redford eating cold beans counts as a key plot point.
After an opening voiceover about morality, we soon enter the almost entirely dialogueless film in which Rober Redford, the sole character who is appropriately named in the credits as ‘Our Man’, wakes up on his yacht to find a shipping container has ruptured its side. We have no idea who Redford is (other than a famous actor of-course), why he’s on alone on a yacht hundreds of miles from anywhere and are given absolutely no reason to care for him. All of this making it a very difficult film to begin watching.
However once you get past the undeveloped character and lack of plot, there is something about this film that eventually draws you in; after twenty minutes you start to become concerned for old Mr. Redford as bad luck hits again and again… I mean what are the chances that the hole in the boat would be right next to the radio, damaging it beyond repair. Oh and is that a storm cloud on the horizon? This could go badly.
The storm sequence is actually a fantastic piece of cinema; with the camera following Redford at close quarters as he battens down the hatches (and has a quick shave) before attempting to survive. It is one of the few sequences in which the film feels truly realistic and you begin to care for ‘Our Man’ as he goes out into the wind and fights the weather head on.
Following the storm the film loses it again as Redford floats around on a lifeboat. This is the point where I think the film is let down by it’s camerawork; it aims to be claustrophobic – keeping the camera close to Redford at all times – whereas I feel it would work much better if to be more showy. Comparing this film to Gravity (2013) is easy to do, both have lone characters lost and alone… however Gravity is visual stunning whereas as this film isn’t. Sure some shots look pretty, but the continuous close-ups fail to give the film any scale. In Gravity you know Sandra Bullock is lost in space thousands of miles from anywhere and you fear for her. In All Is Lost you don’t feel the same sort of desperation as there are almost no shots showing the expanse of the ocean (and Redford’s situation).
Watching the film I tried to imagine if it would be as enjoyable without Redford and decided that no, for me he was the sole point of interest and the only reason to watch this film. To make a near silent role, with no backstory interesting is a difficult job and in this film Redford excels, giving a fantastic performance and turning what would be a below-average film into an average one.
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