At a time when filmmakers are desperately throwing everything at the screen and seeing what sticks, it’s refreshing to see a film like All Is Lost come along and turn the more-is-more formula on its head.
This is pure, minimalist cinema. The plot can be described in a single breath: Robert Redford finds himself lost on a damaged boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and must use his resourcefulness to survive a storm.
And that’s essentially it. There’s only one actor, and barely three lines of dialogue – one being “Help!” There is no backstory, no flashbacks, no shots of fretting family members at shore, no Helen Hunt moving on with her life, no CGI tiger posturing theological queries. There is only a man, a boat, and the elements.
It’s curiously radical to have a film stripped to the dramatic basics. (The very first shot sees salty water leak into the boat’s cabin.) Every triumph, every pitfall, every turning point becomes amplified to the nth degree.
Our anonymous seaman does his level best to save his own life, deploying some Macgyver-esque ingenuity to repair the damage inflicted by stray shipping container, and his efforts – workmanlike and sensible – are absorbing to watch. But without navigation or radio, he is effectively doomed.
This pared-down approach does make you wonder if other factors have been skimped on; save for a pre-credits voiceover epilogue, we know practically nothing about the never-named hero, other than his skills at the helm of a yacht.
But this is where Redford shines: communicating noisy emotion behind a veil of deafening silence. Huge sections of the film pass with only the ocean (and Alex Ebert’s eerie soundtrack) for aural comfort, and it’s only the veteran actor’s screen presence that fills the gap. Lean, relentless, and gripping: All Is Lost is, in essence, a perfect disaster movie.