By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood May 22, 2013 at 11:52AM
Reviews are coming in from Cannes for J.C. Chandor's ("Margin Call") second feature, "All Is Lost," a virtually dialogue-free adventure starring Robert Redford as a 70ish man battling the ocean elements solo on his boat. Reactions are largely positive, praising Redford's "tour de force" performance and Chandor's existential direction, while dissenters wish Godspeed to the film's languid pace -- that "a shark attack might put poor Redford out of his misery." Roundup below.
J.C. Chandor's flashy directorial debut "Margin Call" contained a complicated plot involving financial turmoil, an ensemble of name actors and numerous locations. His followup, "All Is Lost," takes place at the complete opposite end of the production scale: Robert Redford spends its entire duration fighting for his life while lost at sea, hardly speaking at all, and barely given much definition. While simplistic to describe, however, the movie is an impressively realized work of minimalist storytelling that foregrounds Redford's physicality more than any other role in his celebrated career. His performance defines the movie to an almost shockingly experimental degree.
As close to pure existential cinema as American filmmaking is likely to get these days, “All Is Lost” finds writer-director J.C. Chandor decisively avoiding the sophomore slump with a picture that could scarcely be more different from his 2011 debut, “Margin Call.” An impressively spare, nearly dialogue-free stranded-at-sea drama that strips characterization down to basic survival instinct, this emotionally resonant one-man showcase for Robert Redford faces a fair number of marketing challenges, given its audacious minimalism and proximity to a much splashier castaway adventure, “Life of Pi.”
Redford delivers a tour de force performance: holding the screen effortlessly with no acting support whatsoever. After a period of scaling back his acting work, to accommodate directing and the Sundance festival, he now appears to be re-emerging energised. His advancing years only add to its subtlety: the difficulties he has hauling down the sail, or righting his dinghy, give his labours a frisson of fear and uncertainty a younger model would not. All may be lost for the boat, and very possibly the entire US, but on this evidence, certainly not for Redford himself.
JC Chandor’s remarkable second feature (after 2011’s Margin Call) is a story of a man lost at sea. There is only one actor (Robert Redford as the sailor) and no dialogue at all outside the short voice-over at the beginning of the film and the expletive that Redford yells in the depths of his despair.
Nonetheless, the film (screening out of competition in Cannes) has such rhythm and intensity that it makes utterly compelling viewing.
The film is a grim and rather relentless analogy for the slow, inevitable march towards the grave: every bad thing can and does happen, with almost comical horror, and by the hour mark, you find yourself begging for a shark attack that might put poor Red out of his misery.
Sadly, director JC Chandor misses the opportunity to establish anything like a backstory for Redford’s character – while it is interesting to see the actor carry his own baggage into the film (thanks to that space in the narrative) it might have been more impactful to have seen his reasons for taking on the clearly foolish endeavour of sailing so far at his age.
Robert Redford keeps the film afloat, even as his character has no such luck with his boat, in All Is Lost, a rugged, virtually dialogue-free survival-at-sea story that sustains attention against considerable odds. Some may dub it Life of Pi without the tiger, but while the stranded seafarer situation is the same, the intent and tone are decidedly different.