In this not-so-terrifying thriller, Robert Redford plays a sailor who struggles for survival after being shipwrecked. The film ultimately relies on highly-charged acting and a suspenseful plot to guide the interest of the audience, rejecting music as a crucial element. It was therefore important for Redford, being the only actor in the film, to maintain a convincing performance throughout – to which he did.
Apart from a few ambiguous moments where it was difficult to identify Redford’s true sentiments, he remained compelling from start to finish. The monologue at the beginning, which represented the only words we’d ever hear the character speak, not including a fair share of “yelps!” and “gahs!”, was instantly powerful, ending in the words “All is lost” which apart from reiterating the title kept us on tenterhooks. Sounds of the sea were deceptively calming from the go, contrary to the atmosphere the actor created. My guess is that J.C. Chandor, the director, wanted to address to the audience the unpredictability of the ocean, a place where truly anything could happen.
Unfortunately for ‘our man’, the name of Redford’s character in the film, the sea manages to take over. Tension is created constantly by the ominous creaking of the boat and the growing force of the waves, interestingly without the use of an orchestral number of several ‘jaws-like’ piano keys to enhance the situation – clearly, this is not off-the-peg, cliché-ridden natural disaster flick. The concept itself is similar to the likes of Zemeckis’ Castaway, though as Tom Hanks devolves into a beard-wearing island dweller, Redford manages to maintain most of his dignity.
Also important is the use of camera angles. A combination of canted and bird’s eye angles added rather charmingly to the cornucopia of artistic elements in the movie. Memorable moment: as Redford watches his boat sink before his eyes, barefaced and void of all hope in his cooped-up dinghy – marvellous.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper review without comment on the negatives. It’d be wrong to say there are plenty, however, as this film remains highly regarded tin my books (despite it only being J.C. Chandor’s second full-length feature film). That said, the latter half of the movie is a bit marmite in that you either love it (I did) or you find it dull and incredibly tiresome. Chandor doesn’t do us many favours when he dumbs down the interest of the protagonist halfway through; one would need a considerable amount of tolerance to remain awake at Redford tying some rope and fixing a radio on to an inflatable boat.
Ultimately, the film ends with the sailor attempting to drown himself out of all lost hope until seeing the hand of a stranger and reaching up to grasp it. Robert Redford’s stellar performance of a man quietly suffering at sea is heightened throughout, indicating at how this is no off-the-rack survival film. So is this worthy of an Oscar? Perhaps not, but perhaps some other less prestigious award I think.