Redford takes on the perfect storm in Gravity's water-borne sibling
It’s a crime that J.C. Chandor’s Redford-starring man-against-the-elements survival drama isn’t more frequently mentioned in the same sentence as Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity.The young writer/director’s sophomore feature is, in many ways, the space-set thriller’s water-borne equivalent. It centres on Robert Redford’s unnamed hero fighting to stay alive against the odds, stuck in the middle of the Ocean, thousands of miles from land, similarly handicapped by a piece of floating debris, and helpless against the weight of an encroaching storm. Drawn from a simple 32-page script, and almost completely devoid of dialogue (a couple of stammered swear words notwithstanding), the film is as much an exercise of pure acting as it is pure filmmaking, and it is a testament to the quality of the individual – and combined – elements, that the end result is so utterly compelling.Veteran actor – and filmmaker himself – Robert Redford is certainly the man to carry this movie single-handedly. He may be in his seventies, but that doesn’t stop him rising to the task of manning this yacht, and this film, and taking it through hell. Famous for his views on restrained dialogue, Redford tells the story just through the look on his face – and in his eyes – as he forges on, meeting every subsequent obstacle with another piece of ingenuity, and facing each new disaster head-on. Within minutes you'll forget that there's no dialogue; that there's only one actor, and simply get swept away in the crashing waves and impending doom.
At once both drawing undeniable parallels with Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, and also drawing to memory water-borne thrillers like Dead Calm (Sam Neill's ingenuity whilst stuck on a sinking yacht was a snapshot of similar pure tension) and older classics like The Old Man and the Sea (both the Spencer Tracy original and the excellent Anthony Quinn remake), there's a similar sense of dark foreboding running throughout; of the seeming impossibility of survival in these circumstances; of the repeated and somewhat unending disasters that befall the lead character, and the power of the human spirit to prevail, no matter what the odds.
Unbearably tense, Chandor and Redford deliver a tremendous man-against-the-elements survival drama.
With Redford driving the story forward relentlessly, and Chandor shaping a streamlined, efficient, taut and unflinchingly tense human drama amidst the stormy chaos, All Is Lost stands apart from the rest as a prime example of that survival instinct; the human drive to simply stay alive. Indeed, it’s arguably in an even purer form than that exhibited by Gravity, leaving this piece competing in the big leagues, despite its ostensibly lack of grandstanding special effects, relying instead on palpable natural threats and looming mortality to keep the tension unbearable.
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