Urban Cinefile
"I'm so happy that it's a sore point with you "  -Arnold Schwarzenegger to Andrew L. Urban on the argument about the date of the turn of the millennium
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Sunday July 12, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



SO LOW ...
Deep into a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, a man (Robert Redford) wakes to find his 39-foot yacht taking on water after a collision with a shipping container left floating on the high seas. With his navigation equipment and radio disabled, the man sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. Despite his success in patching the breached hull, his mariner’s intuition, and a strength that belies his age, the man barely survives the tempest. Using only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his progress, he is forced to rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane in hopes of hailing a passing vessel. But with the sun unrelenting, sharks circling and his meagre supplies dwindling, the ever-resourceful sailor soon finds himself staring his mortality in the face and his chances of surviving so very low.

Filmmaker J.C. Chandor knew he wanted to make some form of open-water thriller long before his feature writing and directing debut, Margin Call, was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. But it took almost six years for him to finally hit upon the startlingly original idea for All Is Lost, a harrowing nautical adventure that takes place entirely at sea and features a single nameless—and nearly wordless—character.

“It’s a very simple story about a guy late in his life who goes out for a four- or five-month sail,” Chandor says. “Fate intervenes, the boat has an accident, and essentially we go on an eight-day journey with him as he fights to survive.”

Chandor’s screenplay bore little resemblance to a typical movie script. Rather than the standard 120 pages, it was roughly 30 pages long. And it consisted entirely of prose description, with no dialogue. In fact, when Margin Call producer Neal Dodson got his hands on the slim sheaf of papers, he asked Chandor when he would receive the rest of it.

"it’s pretty audacious and pretty brave"

“When J.C. said that it was the whole script, I was both terrified and excited,” Dodson recalls. “The first film we did together was all about dialogue, and this was very obviously not about dialogue. I admit that my first thought was, ‘I don’t know how the hell we’re going to get this thing financed’—because it’s pretty audacious and pretty brave.”

Fellow producer Anna Gerb (Margin Call) recalls reading the script on her deck with Chandor present, and being blown away by the sheer viscerality of it. 

“I read it and I looked at J.C. and said, ‘Wow. I’m seasick,’” she recalls. “As a producer, I like to be in control. Being in the middle of the ocean on a sailboat, putting myself in a situation where I am at the mercy of the universe is something I just couldn’t imagine.”

Chandor, on the other hand, was intimately familiar with the universe of sailboats.
“Although I never sailed across the ocean alone, sailing is something I grew up around,” he says, “so I knew the basic palette I was working with.”

Chandor says the sheer simplicity of the story—and the filmmaking challenge it presented—drew him to make the film. The story has echoes of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and as Dodson describes “ it’s an existential action movie about one man lost at sea, fighting against the elements and himself.”

"the casting of two-time Academy Award winner Robert Redford"

A pivotal step in the film’s journey from script to screen was, of course, the casting of two-time Academy Award winner Robert Redford (The Sting). The iconic actor, director and creator of Sundance had met and been impressed with Chandor when Margin Call premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011.

“I liked J.C. Chandor,” Redford recalls. “He represented, for me, the exact type of person that we want to support. He had a vision, he was a new voice on the horizon and he told his story in a very special way.”

When Chandor told Dodson that he wanted to cast Redford as the film’s sole character, referred to simply as “Our Man” in the script, the producer knew it was a long shot. 

“I said, ‘Listen, he’s going to say one of two things when he gets that 30-page script,” Dodson recalls. “He’s either going to say, ‘Hell yes, this sounds amazing,’ or he’s going to say, ‘Why in the world would I do that? I have nothing to prove. Why would I put myself through that?’ And to our great, great benefit, he said yes.”

For his part, Redford was drawn to the originality of the project, which he describes as a story about a man who takes “one heck of a journey and one heck of a beating.”

"It was bold. It was eccentric, and there was no dialogue."

“I really liked the script because it was different,” Redford says. “It was bold. It was eccentric, and there was no dialogue. I felt that J.C. was going to go through with that vision, even though it was not all explained. But I trusted that he knew what he was doing, that he had it in his head. I knew I would be supporting that vision even while not knowing everything, and that was interesting and good for me.”

Given the solitary nature of the film, Chandor, at times, lets the camera linger on Redford and relish his quiet, simple activities in a way seldom seen on film.

“It’s rare to watch someone think,” Dodson observes. “Most movies are very ‘cutty,’ and I enjoy those movies. But this isn’t that movie. Yes, it’s got action sequences, but the camera is going to sit on him for a while. We’re going to watch him eat a can of soup, and watch him have a glass of bourbon, and watch him cook, and watch him stand in the rain.” 

In one memorable scene, the sailor is chest-deep in water collecting supplies from his slowly sinking yacht. Then he takes a break to stand before the mirror and—for possibly the last time in his life - shave. 

“You work against the odds in the weirdest ways,” Redford says. “But when the odds are so great against you, you fight hard to create some normalcy in your life, even though it may seem weird.”

Published February 27, 2014

Email this article


All Is Lost
Writer/Director: J. C. Chandor
Stars Robert Redford
In Australian cinemas from March 6, 2014

Best Film – New York Film Festival, 2013
Best Actor, Robert Redford – Gotham Awards 2013

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020