Review from 3/1/17
A distinctive survival drama showing one man’s perseverance against an antagonistic sea, All is Lost is an experimental and at times beautiful film which is sadly let down in some crucial areas.
Chandor has taken themes of survival and disaster from his earlier thriller Margin Call, distilling these down to a minimalist story, focusing on pure action rather than character. He does this by following one solitary, nameless protagonist, giving little insight into his background or personality. This creates a sense of isolation which is further reinforced by a lack of dialogue, complimented by a detailed Foley soundscape.
However, this simplification ultimately detracts from the tension as the audience struggles to care about such an underdeveloped character. Redford’s performance somewhat redeems this but by empathy created through his star appeal rather than the character he plays.
Handheld camera creates an immediate, cinéma vérité style, emphasising moments of intense action and instability and contrasting with more stable shots at calmer moments. Some of these are visually stunning, particularly the underwater shots looking up at the life raft.
Yet this visual appeal is not sustained enough to compensate for the lack of an engaging character. The rule of thirds is followed occasionally but the camera mainly follows the action in the centre of the screen. This overuse of the vérité style also leads to several jarring jump cuts which seem unintentional rather than for deliberate effect.
Chandor took a bold step in making such strong stylistic choices and, while it was definitely a worthwhile experiment, it was ultimately ineffective in establishing his vision of intense hopelessness.
This unique piece of cinema has the potential to create a powerful image of isolation and despair but, tragically, all this is lost when the audience feels little empathy for the central character.