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All Is Lost

AllIsLostDirected by JC Chandor
Starring Robert Redford

1700 miles off the Sumatran Straits. Lost at sea. Adrift. Bereft of food, water, and hope. All Is Lost.

The captain of the Virginia Jean (Robert Redford) finds himself in an epic struggle for survival after his yacht is holed by a floating shipping container. As he scrambles to repair the damage, he is thrown into a storm and the situation gets much worse.

Robert Redford gives a virtuoso performance here, not merely because he is the only person on screen for the entirety of the movie, but because he carries off the performance in virtual silence.  Besides the opening coda (a desperate address to loved ones) and the occasional exclamation of frustration, Redford is completely taciturn. Instead of constructing a painted volleyball, CG tiger, or an astronaut George Clooney, the film is content to let Redford convey meaning through his actions. The audience can clearly see every decision agonised over, the frustration building as failures mount, and the desperation increase as the situation grows grim. It also must be added, that for a man in his late 70s, it is a remarkably physical performance. Our man is tossed by wave, thrown around the interior of the Virginia Jean and drenched through to the bone by torrential rain.

Of course, as nature abhors a vacuum, the atmospheric diagetic sound effects fill the void left by dialogue. The audience becomes acutely aware of the numerous noises of the sea, adding to this film’s rich sense of location. Little wonder that it is in this area that All Is Lost earned its only Oscar nomination. The musical soundtrack is used sparingly in the first half of the film, its haunting refrain occasionally adding an air of melancholy to the proceedings. In the latter half of the film the music becomes more commonly used and helps emphasise the emotional tone, without reaching the bombastic heights of many scores (you know what you did, Hans Zimmer).

In All Is Lost director JC Chandor (Margin Call) crafts a carefully constructed survival movie. Similar to last years Gravity, it pits the protagonist against an environment hostile to human life, but where Gravity is a thrill ride, All Is Lost seems like a meditation on mortality. Beautifully shot, it conveys a stunning sense of the open sea. On board the Virginia Jean you can see the ocean stretching to the horizon, reinforcing to the audience at all times how isolated Redford’s character is. Yet there is also a wonderful, oft-repeated sequence of marine life slowly building under the raft, clearly demonstrating the circle of life and death that is at play here.

An exquisite piece of cinema, All Is Lost presents a tense battle of man against the elements. All told with barely a word spoken, bravely letting the performance and images speak for themselves.

DAVID O’CONNELL

All Is Lost screens as part of the Lotterywest Festival Film season at Somerville from February 3 – 8 and Joondalup Pines from February 11 – 16. For more details, head to perthfestival.com.au.

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