Cannes 2013: J.C. Chandor's 'All is Lost' is Meticulous, Extraordinary
by Alex Billington
May 23, 2013
Lost at sea. This film is a work of art. Stunning in so many ways, and it couldn't be simpler, but that's why it's so extraordinary. All is Lost, the second feature from Oscar nominated writer/director J.C. Chandor (of Margin Call previously), stars Robert Redford and only Redford as the sole captain of a sailboat that ends up lost at sea after being damaged in the Indian Ocean. There isn't any dialogue, only a few lines from Redford throughout, and nothing but him trying to survive on a boat for 106 minutes. It's grueling, thrilling, meticulous, inspiring and most importantly, moving. I can't stop thinking about it and how wonderful it is.
All is Lost may just be a simple story of a man lost at sea, but the themes and metaphors and visual details hidden within are full of such depth it's truly spectacular and riveting to think about further. The film opens with a voiceover of the final letter written by Redford and a shot of the cargo container drifting in the ocean that knocks a hole in the side of his boat. Those lines linger in our minds throughout. In the remaining 106 minutes, serene underwater shots of fish and the occasionally vicious clouds in the sky are poignant reminders of the magnificent beauty of nature. And, perhaps, reminders of how we've lost care and concern for the peacefulness of nature and given into the whims of excess and a society of fast-paced consumerism.
Just the fact that this film was conceived, made, pulled off, and exceeds so beautifully is part of the reason why it's particularly moving. There is an extraordinary attention to detail in every sense of the situation. Similar to The Grey, it often focuses on the survival aspects and Redford calmly but carefully doing the right things to make sure he doesn't die in the middle of the ocean, but All is Lost really outdoes itself. Every little last sailing detail, every repair, every movement he makes. Even in his final few days float on the water, his lips are extremely chapped, the skin on his hands and face is dried from being in the sun for so long, he's exhausted and you can see every pain on his face. This is easily one of Redford's best performances in years.
From the moment Redford first opens his eyes to a boat filled with water, he's not panicking. I think the decisions Chandor and Redford made in this speak volumes about our society and metaphorically reference the need to be patient and careful in order to survive in the long run. That making quick, irrational decisions doesn't help anyone and yet everything keeps getting messed up. The score is wonderful, it's subtle but used in a way that adds additional atmosphere to make the weight of all this feel even greater. It's never tries to force emotions, but there is a great moment where Redford yells out that made me want to cheer in support.
The more I think about it, the more the film grows on me, and what it says about our world, and how it says it in such a peaceful way. Patience is a virtue and one many of us struggle with in today's insanely fast-paced day and age. I have an immense amount of respect for Chandor demanding the audience be just as patient watching one man stranded in the middle of the ocean for over 100 minutes. The film transcends its story and becomes a work of art that perfectly captures humanity's relentless desire to survive, along with the the ups and downs and struggles that one finds themselves in trying to understand life on this planet. A planet full of beauty and chaos all around us, that reminds us to appreciate all of that splendor while we still can.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 9.5 out of 10