As a result of the critical success of The Artist, we have seen some daring and spectacular projects of scripts with limited dialogue. Ang Lee's Life of Pi was basically a boy on a boat talking to a tiger with little verbal sparring after their ship capsizes. Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity has two characters drifting alone in space with limited conversational communication. Both films proved to be both a critical and commercial success and The Artist Effect may have paved their way to box office glory.
So, All is Lost. One man in a boat - no back story, no people, (virtually) no dialogue and no unnecessary exposition - just one man against the elements and what a gripping story it is.
Robert Redford plays an unnamed yachtsman deep in a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean when he is hit by catastrophe. Why he is there is not explained but that is not important. What follows is an epic struggle for survival between man and the elements. Fans of Robert Redford will be shocked by his aging good looks and this is accentuated by the sheer physicality of the role, which makes you wonder whether he is too old for the part, but Redford carries it off with aplomb. You'll be blowing hard with him as he lifts, climbs, carries, pushes and pulls his way around the boat. For a man three years shy of his 80th birthday, Redford shows that he is still supremely fit.
This film is 106 minutes long with no dialogue, no backstory and one person. How did it hold the attention of me and the entire cinema? The real answer is Robert Redford. At age 77, his screen presence is remarkable. Having never been a "showy" actor, his performance and this movie depend on facial expressions, his body language, and mostly his ability to connect with an audience immediately. Technically, the movie is exceptional, especially in sound design and in creating a terrifying and believable situation. If the academy doesn't come knocking with a nomination I will be very surprised.
The director, J.C. Chandor, is fast developing a reputation for lean, mean electrifying storytelling and like his first film, Margin Call, another fat free but thrilling examination of the demise of Wall St, All is Lost wastes no time in telling a simple story with skill, verve and edge-of-your-seat tension. What Jaws did for sharks this film will do for sailing. The underwater shots reminds you of the best cinematography of the BBC's finest wildlife documentaries and the camera work of the boat beset by storms are nothing short of miraculous and astonishingly, seemingly free from CGI effects. It really is a phenomenal piece of work. JC Chandor isn't just a director, he's an artist - and an artist of the top level.
The script, also penned by Chandor, stays away from many of the usual clichés and easy jump scares or moments of awe that would be easily picked from the Stereotype Tree by a less confident director. The story is not fed to its audience with narration or a man talking to himself to education the audience on his thought process. Instead, All is Lost trusts that the audience will be able to understand the decisions and actions of the protagonist and in this venture the film succeeds admirably.
With both Gravity and Life of Pi both garnering critical acclaim and money at the box-office, the fact that All is Lost not only deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as them - but also betters them - is astounding considering the budget for this is $9,000,000 compared to Gravity's $100,000,000 and Life of Pi's $120,000,000 respectively.
This is an instance of successful storytelling in its most stripped down form; put the protagonist up a tree (or in an ocean) and throw things at him. And the fact that Chandor strips away every unnecessary detail about this man (we don't even get his name) All Is Lost becomes a story about pure survival for survivals sake. And isn't that the ultimate form of raising the stakes?