All is Lost
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 16th February 2014
Goodness knows how the pitch went down.
“It’s Robert Redford, stranded on a boat. In the ocean. Alone. Think Gravity at sea. Without Sandra Bullock.”
Because this just about sums up the extraordinary one-hander that is the crinkly-faced movie legend’s latest shot at an Oscar (although note: inexplicably, he wasn’t nominated). It might have sounded terribly dull if Tom Hanks hadn’t already proved that one man and an island is all you need for a couple of gripping cinematic hours in Cast Away. Here, Redford ups the ante by having his island sink from beneath him, leaving him in true peril and fighting for his life.
Writer-director J. C. Chandor impressed with his debut feature, Margin Call, which told of an investment bank steering itself through stormy financial waters during a 24-hour period. His follow-up film feels similarly claustrophobic in its urgency, pitting Redford against a leaky boat, inclement weather and near insanity brought on by the devastating aloneness of it all.
It’s essential, therefore, that Redford’s performance is not only credible but captivating. A paragon of silent, methodical calm, with barely a word of dialogue and scarcely a flicker of emotion, this modern day MacGyver about whom we know (and discover) next to nothing understands what to do and just gets on with it. Patching a gash in the hull, tending to stitches while chest-deep in water – despite the implicit assurance that he knows what he’s doing, Redford’s predicament is nail biting to watch.
Considering the challenges inherent in a virtually wordless script, the soundscape is terrific, mercifully sparing us manipulative attempts to have us like the character and merely arresting us to witness this battle against a universal fear. The result is a movie that surprises for being incredibly exciting right up to its final, desperate moments.