Review: Under The Skin (2013)

Director: Jonathan Glazer

*****

Under The Skin: it’s less a title and more a declaration. It aims to burrow there; it slips beneath flesh and bone to niggle at your core long after the film ends. Many films are described as ‘haunting’, but Under The Skin will genuinely prey on your subconscious. How could it not? It’s full of images to seduce, unsettle and occasionally horrify. Like so many sentences one could say about this film, it’s meant in the best possible sense.

Michael Faber’s 2000 source novel was praised for its satirical take on environmental issues and gender politics. The latter is accentuated more in the film, but not in any seedy or overly erotic way. Under The Skin may feature Scarlett Johansson stripping, but any hint of eroticism swiftly gives way to deep unease and darkness. Johansson plays Laura, an alien dispatched to Earth to lure and trap punters for reasons that are initially unknown. Hints are offered as to what Laura’s mission is, but director Jonathan Glazer (making his first film since 2004’s Birth) needs to explain relatively little; he continually fills the viewer with dread, and that sickly feeling is enough. She’s deposited outside Glasgow, sporting a human disguise. Given a van and some decidedly secondhand clothing, Laura sets off on her mission. The first half of Under The Skin combines the cool detachment of Johansson’s performance with some cinema verité-esque techniques to chilling effect. The camera presents us with Laura’s eye-view, scouring Glasgow’s streets for potential victims. Capturing real people going about their daily business in broad daylight gives proceedings a decidedly voyeuristic feel. Like Laura, the camera glides along surreptitiously, but full of intent and curiosity. Laura blurs the lines between alien and human as Glazer blurs the line between cinema and reality; the non-actors used here (allegedly without their knowledge, in some cases) bring this outsider into sharp focus. Scarlett Johannson’s beauty sets her apart; next to Glaswegian grunge, she’s alien in every sense of the word.

As Laura seduces her victims to their demise (The film’s most memorable sequences sees her horny quarries wade into a black pool of liquid death), so Under The Skin wraps itself around the viewer with material and techniques they’ve seen before, only to shock with moves and combinations to surprise at every turn. Under The Skin sounds like schlock in the vein of Species, but it automatically gets elevated when it’s transplanted into a landscape befitting Ken Loach. Then throw into the mix some Kubrick-esque cool (The few purely sci-fi settings recall 2001), some Hitchcockian tension and a dash of Lynchian oddity (One plot strand nods to The Elephant Man) to accentuate that extra-terrestrial flavour. The remarkable thing about Under The Skin is not how many influences it can cite. The remarkable thing is that the film never gets buried under the influences. It has multiple inspirations and yet it stands out as its own unforgettable entity. Plotwise, comparisons can be drawn to Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, but Under The Skin flips that film’s conceits on their head. The alien is the source of malevolence here, and human contact is all physical; it could scarcely be emotional or relatable, after all. Laura is a necessarily lonely creature, and Under The Skin is a hauntingly lonely film. Rural Scotland, all mist and ruggedness, is at once a beautiful and foreboding landscape. Laura may be an alien, but she’s the one on the perilous space mission to  a different and dangerous world.

Glazer’s claustrophobic lensing in the first half of the films gives way to slightly more stylised work in the second, as the experimental feel that defines the film’s opening scenes gives way to plot beats. Still, the transition is no bad thing; whilst there may be a little less tension to the second half, there is still a fundamental sense of foreboding. Where can this film go? How long can Laura maintain her pretense? You’ll be kept guessing by Johansson’s poker-face and the absolutely phenomenal sound design. When not being overwhelmed by screeching digitised strings, the soundscape vibrates with hums and dissonance. Every element of Under The Skin’s production is designed with disturbance in mind. The film opens with what appears to be a close-up of a human eye (or at least what might become a human eye), but when that which purports to be human may not be so, how can we trust it? At the core of this mystery is Johannson, guarding her character’s secrets until her lonely task takes its toll. Between this, Don Jon and Her, 2013 may well be her watershed year. She can be vocal, still, alluring and deceptive, and better roles should start to come her way.

There is little point in denying that Under The Skin is doomed/destined to divide audiences. Selling this as a film in which Scarlett Johansson takes her clothes off will simply attract an audience who may not be ready for it. Under The Skin is coolly, chillingly brilliant, unwilling to be pinned to any given set of expectations. Then again, that’s what makes it so memorable. By the time its eerie ending rolls around, Under The Skin has slipped into the depths of the mind like one of Laura’s victims slips under an alien abyss to their deaths. Be warned; it will not leave there for a long time afterwards.

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Review: Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Director: Jim Jarmusch

*****

Amongst the many beasties that have come to define horror, vampires have inspired some of the more respectable and emotional exemplars of the genre. However, it usually happens that any insight offered by these films works purely on a level of subtext. Most bumps in the night have no modus operandi beyond death and grue, so intelligent discussions are backgrounded; zombies want to eat brains, not use them. Only Lovers Left Alive is a film about vampires but, next to its heavily-accented and caped kin, it is not a vampire film. They may drink human blood, but the protagonists of Jim Jarmusch’s latest are first and foremost to be admired. They are wonderful creatures, blessed with intelligence beyond normal boundaries and the faces of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. Lucky them.

The myth of the vampire has existed for centuries and it has developed certain rules and narratives over time. In most versions, they require blood to survive, they must avoid direct sunlight and a stake to the heart is certain death. Jarmusch is a singular auteur, but the closeness with which he cleaves to the established lore is admirable. Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) are vampires and lovers, living continents apart and forever in fear of detection and the sun. He lives in a rundown corner of Detroit creating snippets of classic hard rock; she hides out in Tangiers, enjoying the company and remembrances of fellow bloodsucker Christopher Marlowe (yes, THAT Christopher Marlowe, played by John Hurt). After an extended period of separation, broken by chats on Skype, Eve ventures to the States to be reunited with Adam. Even the undead need to be loved, y’see?

Adam is a musician, creating great samples to be played at the local underground circuit in Detroit. To avoid detection he passes himself off as a reclusive music genius, which sits fine with his sole external contact, fawning producer lackey Ian (Anton Yelchin). Jarmusch’s genius links the vampire with another perennial outsider, the artist. Adam is forever distant from the word around him; apart from his vampiricism, he can’t come to terms with technologies and a society evolving at a rate far quicker than he would have been used to centuries before. He has the usual challenge of finding sustenance (leading to some hilarious interplay between Adam and Jeffrey Wright’s unscrupulous haematologist), but also can’t use or share his gifts in the same ways as before. Sensing his isolation, Eve heads to Detroit for a joyous reunion. There’s a tenderness to their embraces that belies previous incarnations of vampires as hyper-sexualised nymphos.

Horror is fertile ground for the imagination, but it is also a pigeonhole. Only Lovers Left Alive transcends the tropes by making the vampire both respectable and identifiable. Adam and Eve may seem all-knowing, but their immortality is a fragile construct. Blood and good company aren’t always easy to find. It’s also good to know that even the undead have to cope with family troubles. Adam and Eve’s reunion is interrupted by the arrival of Eve’s little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), a spoilt brat who’s more Bling Ring than Bela Lugosi. This could be all too much for Adam to bear; even vampires are changing their style. Eve’s ice-cold wisdom contrasts sharply with Ava’s here-and-now loquaciousness. Vampires are a product of their time, and when you can’t fit in with the present you can’t hide in the shadows any more.

From all this you can probably discern that, despite the blood-suckers, Only Lovers Left Alive is very much a Jarmusch film. Its humour is dark and witty, and its pace is measured and unhurried. That said, if ever a film was to win over Jarmusch’s critics, this might be it. It’s often laugh-out-loud funny, and the pacing only accentuates the elegance of Hiddleston and Swinton’s features and performances. Despite all this and another great soundtrack, Jarmusch’s latest is a most unlikely elegy, not to anything specific but to the past. Tangiers is all crumbling Moorish arches, whilst the real decay of overstretched modern Detroit is vividly realized. Richer, livelier times have given way to death, whose stench infects the darkened lighting schemes and dour colours in every frame. We all resent the passing of good times, and thus we should all find something to love in Only Lovers Left Alive.

Review: Blue Is The Warmest Colour (La Vie d’Adèle, Chapitres 1 et 2) (2013)

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

****

Leave it to the French to describe the indescribable, especially when it comes to love. L’amour toujours, l’amour fou, l’amour supreme, etc. etc. We’ve heard that love is a many-splendored thing, and director Abdellatif Kechiche takes it upon himself to show as many of these splendors as he possibly can in Blue Is The Warmest Colour. That’s no easy task, but the evidence suggests that Kechiche and his crew are committed to getting to the nub of love, if such a thing is even obtainable. From its three-hour running time to the intensity of its performances, this is the intimate drama repackaged as an epic, small in scale but big in themes and reach. Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a phenomenal and noble attempt to describe that indescribable, amour in all its folie. But does it succeed?

The amant driven to folie in this romance is Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), presented for all intents and purposes as a typical 17-year-old girl; insecure, pressured by her peers and keen to make her first inroads into what will ultimately become her love life. We watch as she and her pals ogle the boys in their class, before she and one of the guys, Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte), go out on a date. From the start, what Blue Is The Warmest Colour captures is the subjective nature of love and desire. It takes all shapes and sizes to make the world, yet we’re constantly driven towards the likes of Thomas, chiselled and exciting. Despite dating and eventually sleeping with him, this is not what Adèle wants. Early on, she exchanges a passing glance with Emma (Léa Seydoux), blue of hair and rebellious in spirit. It appears to be love at first sight for Adèle, who actively seeks Emma out soon after.

We’re drowning in films about the wonders of love, but Blue Is The Warmest Colour acknowledges love as both a wonderful thing and a necessary part of everyday life. Adapted from Julie Maroh’s graphic novel, and using handheld camerawork for most scenes, Kechiche casts the developing love affair between Adèle and Emma in the context of an identifiable reality. In a style invoking comparison to the Dardenne brothers, we see Adèle live a life of relative constancy and normality against which she begins to explore her own desires. She goes to school, does homework, eats with her family and hangs out with friends. In the midst of this comfortable repetition, Emma’s appearance in Adèle’s life shakes things up, for better or worse. Kechiche and co-writer Ghalia Lacroix channel Maroh’s text into a believable näiveté for Exarchopoulos to make her own. See Adèle’s uneasy first venture into a gay bar as she seeks out the woman who entranced her before in the town square. This is a world she’s never experienced, but the risk guarantees a blue-rinsed reward.

Our heroines meet face to face, and attraction is apparent right from the start. The flirtations and first conversations between them rope us in, guaranteeing our emotional investment. Early on, Adèle and Emma meet in a park dappled in sunshine, but Kechiche’s camera focuses on the actresses’ faces. Exarchopoulos’ rounded features compliment those of the older, earthy Seydoux. The opposites attract; the young schoolgirl and the seasoned rebel are drawn to each other and we are drawn to them in turn. Furtive glances and gentle pecks on the cheek are tenderly captured, with Exarchopoulos and Seydoux brilliantly committing to the emotional perils of their characters.

The tragedy of many filmic love stories is that they opt to stop at “…happily ever after.” Blue Is The Warmest Colour takes no such easy option. After the initial highs, time passes to expose weakness and temptations, leading to dispute and despair. Careers conflict, as Adèle trains to be a teacher and Emma continues her work as an artist. Professional commitments and the challenges of a relationship all bear down on our heroines. Amidst triumph and turmoil, the emotions of the characters never ring false. In awarding the film the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, Steven Spielberg and his jury justly acknowledged the emotional intensity of Exarchopoulos and Seydoux’s work. They elevate Blue Is The Warmest Colour above any queer cinema pigeonholes. This is love, and that should translate to just about anyone.

The arrival of Blue Is The Warmest Colour comes with controversy. Even if it hadn’t won the Palme d’Or, Blue Is The Warmest Colour would still have achieved notoriety for its scenes of lesbian sex. Whilst they are undeniably full-on and erotic, they also sees Kechiche all but abandon the handheld realism he had skillfully used to that point. Film fans will continue to argue whether the sex on display captures the intensity of their passion or just throws a heteronormative eye on a homosexual relationship. There has also been a furore over labour disputes and a frosty working atmosphere on set, with both lead actresses declaring they would not work with Kechiche again. If this is the case, the disputes don’t show in the finished product. It may last three hours, but Blue Is The Warmest Colour rarely feels stretched. It’s a grounded and identifiable love story, pure and simple, powered by two emotionally devastating performances. Blue symbolizes liberty in the French tricolour; Blue Is The Warmest Colour frees itself from unnecessary categorizing by being emotionally honest. Anyone who’s ever found and/or lost love will readily identify.

Review: Oldboy (2013)

Director: Spike Lee

**

Another week, another remake. At least, it feels like we get one each week, and with each remake comes the usual chorus from critics and audiences alike that we just don’t want them. When it comes to critiquing a remake, the best approach tends to involve an exercise in disassociation. Pretend the original doesn’t exist, and there may be treasure to be found in the redux. This is not an easy thing to do; more often than not, the original is something so singular and unforgettable that comparison cannot be avoided. Some succeed, but many more don’t. Even so, a wily writer and director will endeavour to step out of the shadow of the original film and make their own mark. Spike Lee is a very distinctive director, so the greatest disappointment with his remake of Oldboy is that it barely strays from the path laid down by its revered predecessor.

The central chapter in his Vengeance trilogy, Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy was the crossover hit that opened up the possibilities of Korean cinema to Western audiences. It grapples with themes of regret, masculinity and revenge, all the while setting up one arresting image after another. It’s violently energetic and ripe with confidence, enough to get over some of its more outlandish plot twists. The tale of a man (played by Choi-Min Sik in the original) kidnapped and imprisoned for fifteen years for no apparent reason, then set free with five days to exact revenge, is riveting at the base level. Ask not why you were imprisoned, goes the tagline for the remake; ask why you were set free. Alas, Oldboy 2013 cannot summon the courage of its own tagline and break free of Park’s original vision.

The biggest difference between the films is the protagonist. Original prisoner Dae-Su Oh was an innocent man, who trained and changed to prepare for his freedom. In Lee’s version, Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is a priggish alcoholic advertising executive; as challenging as that character sounds, it feels more like an attempt on the part of screenwriter Mark Prosetovich to make his inevitable captivity seem fitting. The original Oldboy had no qualms about bringing misery on people that ultimately didn’t deserve it. Apparently, Western audiences can’t swallow such a challenge, and only the bad should suffer. It’s a small change on the surface, but it’s this decision that shows Oldboy 2013 up for the cash cow that it’s designed to be.That said, its performance at the domestic box office has been absolutely dismal. Perhaps audiences are waking up to the fallacy of remakes like this. Unless you’re providing a challenge, what’s the point?

Lured into a one-night stand, Doucett awakens in a hotel room with no windows, no exit and no explanations. Naturally, he initially seeks answers and a way out, but years go by without either. He’s been made to disappear, and has been framed for his ex-wife’s murder into the bargain. After twenty years of regret, irregular gassings and stomach crunches, he’s released and given five days to find the answers. This would have been interesting if there was any attempt to make Oldboy 2013 stand out. In its design and direction, the best adjective to describe Oldboy is: lazy. The look of the film borrows liberally from that of the original. The hotel room is the same browned and mildewed hellhole as the original. DP Sean Bobbitt doesn’t so much nod to Chung-hoon Chung’s work in the original as copy it exactly. This is most notable in the recreation of the famous central fight scene in which our antihero takes on countless goons in a steadicam shot capturing every blow and crunch. In the new version Lee does remember to keep it dynamic, but it’s still not distinctive enough to stand out. The goons are in the employ of Samuel L. Jackson’s Chaney, the proprietor of the mystery hotel. He sports a blonde cropped mohawk and a primary-coloured wardrobe. Despite his look, Jackson is still an unmemorable presence in this unmemorable remix.

The first half of the film, for all its unoriginality, is too persistently violent and colourful to be dismissed outright. It’s only when the second hour kicks in, and Doucett remembers to put down his weapon of choice and begin investigations proper, that the pace drops a notch. Whilst on his merciless mission he encounters a young paramedic, Elisabeth Olsen’s Marie, who takes pity on Doucett and offers her help. To their credit, Brolin and Olsen bring gristle and grace to their respective roles, something which also helped the original film stay grounded. Yet whilst Park’s vision kept the pith and vinegar flowing, the second act of Oldboy 2013 flags as Doucett and Marie begin digging for answers in Doucett’s past. It’s all box-ticking detective work which leads to the answers in all their warped glory. Ultimately, the revelations of the final answers are scuppered, and there are three reasons for this. Firstly, editor Barry Alexander Brown chops the film to shreds, opting for cuts where a pause could have been welcomed. The frenzied chopping reeks of notes from a studio boardroom demanding a runtime under two hours. It’s rarely an edit job is this noticeable or grating. Secondly, our nominal nemesis comes in the form of Sharlto Copley. To say much about his character Adrian would be a lurch towards spoilers, suffice it to say that the District 9 man tops his hammy turn in Elysium with an accent so plummy and a snootiness so out of place that it’s laughable. He’s simply dreadful, and attempts to explain his affectations do little to offset the damage.

The third factor in Oldboy’s failure is an odd one. While many remakes take flak for changing original plot details, this one deviates very little. Anyone expecting Lee or Protosevich to dumb down the crueller twists of the climax might be in for a surprise. Yet, here we arrive at a catch-22. A remake will not appeal to people who liked the original (In this case, that’s most people). Unless you change something at a fundamental plot level (especially when the visual style apes the original), the necessity of any remake dwindles significantly. Oldboy doesn’t, and clearly hopes that enough people are subtitle-resistant enough to make this redo worth a look. But box-office figures don’t lie; it has unequivocally flopped. It doomed itself from the start by not doing enough to make itself appeal to the original fans, and people clearly aren’t in the mood for a bloody revenge thriller at Thanksgiving when they can watch their families argue over pumpkin pie and yams. Even if it was released at any other time of year, Oldboy’s po-faced refusal to do anything different is its downfall. Anyone who never saw the original might enjoy the game leading turns or the twists and turns, but on a technical level it pales next to an original which, whilst imperfect, is a singular experience. It tries, but this Oldboy is just old hat.

Review: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

*****

Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen Brothers at their most Coen-esque. Lest this be interpreted as a criticism, bear in mind that their formula is an almost sure-fire bet with each new film. Inside Llewyn Davis sees American cinema’s most interesting siblings tread that fine line between drama and comedy with panache once more. It boasts a self-loathing depressive male lead, fascinating side characters and T-Bone Burnett supervising a marvellous soundtrack. It’s nothing new, but it is something wonderful all the same.

Based on folk legend Dave Van Ronk, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a Coen-esque male in the mould of Walter Sobchak, Jerry Lundergaard and Larry Gopnik. Like these poor souls, he is bearing the brunt of some life choices that are on the cusp of turning sour. He’s a struggling folk singer in 1961 New York. Kennedy is eyeing up the moon for colonisation, but Bob Dylan has yet to make it big. For America, as for Llewyn, there is potential for greatness on the way, provided the Robert Zimmermans or Lee Oswalds of this world don’t get in the way. He plugs away at dingy Brooklyn bars and couch-surfs where he can. In a vein similarly explored by many directors, from Jim Jarmusch to Bruce Robinson, the aspiring artist constantly courts the bum’s rush. Money and opportunities are in short supply, and admirers and acquaintances can’t guarantee a place to stay. Among those acquaintances are former girlfriend Jean (a brilliantly sweary Carey Mulligan) and her squeaky-clean singer-songwriter hubby Jim (Justin Timberlake).

Driven as much by a need to prove others wrong as by his artistic aspirations, Llewyn sets his sights on performing at the Gate of Horn folk club in Chicago, which is overseen by producer Les Grossman (F. Murray Abraham). Before he can get to Chicago, Llewyn has issues to sort. First among those issues, Jean is pregnant with Llewyn’s child and wants him to stump up for an abortion. It’s all a touch heavy, but leave it to the Coens to infuse proceedings with a comedic touch. Indeed, that comedic touch is seriously needed here, as sympathetic characters are practically nil. A lot of Llewyn’s problems are due to his abrasive nature; whether drunkenly heckling another musician or insulting the hosts and guests at a dinner party, he’s not the most endearing of chaps. Perhaps Mulligan’s Jean has a point; she constantly declares he’s an asshole. The only thing that saves the character from all-out unlikeability is Isaac, whose turn is positively star-making. Like William H. Macy in Fargo or John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, Isaac infuses Llewyn with a humanity to counter the venom. His frustration is excessive, but recognisable. His manager is getting no gigs, his album (from which the film gets its title) isn’t selling and that nasal-sounding fellow at the club is proving more popular; who wouldn’t vent? Screams and resignation feel like they’re never too far away, but Issac’s restraint keeps us on side.

When Llewyn looks for a way to Chicago, he hitches with jazz musician Turner (the aforementioned Mr. Goodman, brilliantly sour) and his chauffeur, a beat poet named Johnny Five played by Garret Hedlund (making an impact despite little-to-no dialogue). Being a Coen brothers film, their trip has no preordained outcome, but having these characters along for the ride keeps it interesting. From the abusive Turner (When not poking Llewyn with his walking stick, he subjects him to a barrage of insults) to Llewyn’s older academic friends the Gorfeins (plus their cat, a frequent scene-stealer), Inside Llewyn Davis offers another selection of flavoursome side characters, small in screentime but big in memorability. They’re all swaddled in a marvellous folk soundtrack, with tunes hummable and relatable. If you’re not moved by Llewyn’s rendition of “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me”, you’ll be tapping your feet to “Please Mr. Kennedy” (performed by Isaac, Timberlake and Adam Driver, whose utterances of the words ‘outer’ and ‘space’ make him sound like he came from there).

Soundtrack and setting aside (The cold, desaturated blues of ‘60s Greenwich Village come courtesy of DP Bruno Delbonnel), there’s not a lot new to Llewyn’s pursuits within the context of the Coens’ oeuvre. Maladjusted male malcontents on episodic journeys to possible redemption is the siblings’ bread and butter. Yet when the tale is made with such care and vim, such grumbles are moot. With heart and laughs, Inside Llewyn Davis is another shining entry in the Coens’ already gilded repertoire.

Review: All Is Lost (2013)

Director: J.C. Chandor

****

If Hollywood is to be believed, if you want to see mankind at its most desperate and inspiring, you have to go to sea. For the second year in a row, for our consideration we are presented with a man adrift with little but his wits and his resilience to see him through. Still, Pi Patel at least had a tiger and (briefly) a zebra for company. The unnamed mariner (Robert Redford) at the heart of J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost has no-one. Hints are given at a family life back on dry land, but a lot feels lost before our tale even begins.

Given how much grander and more effects-driven last year’s Life Of Pi was, it’s surprising to see All Is Lost’s more minimalist take on similar events follow it up. Arguably, All Is Lost has less to say than Ang Lee’s film, but the fact that there’s little in the way of allegory or commentary just means its core story is unimpeded (Indeed, after Gravity’s unsubtle religious metaphors, it might even seem refreshing). The film opens with a voiceover of our protagonist reading a letter composed to loved ones on dry land, but then we cut and any possibility of outside contact or assistance is taken away. Named as ‘our man’ in the credits, Redford’s character awakens on his yacht, the Virginia Jean, to discover the hold flooding after it’s been breached and broken by a shipping container adrift in the ocean. Thus begins his mission to patch the hole and get the good ship Jean going again. The simplicity of his title, ‘our man’, is part of what makes All Is Lost work. We watch him slowly but assuredly seal the breach, applying pastes and wooden slats, before authoritatively readying his sails and preparing to continue with the voyage. This man is not defined by a name, but by his actions. Keep calm and carry on, as the wartime slogan said. The opening monologue sets our man up clearly; “I think you would all agree that I tried. To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right.” He’s clearly an experienced and seasoned mariner, and in Hollywood few personalities are as experienced and seasoned as Robert Redford.

Redford’s standing as a Hollywood elder stands to him in his performance. His dashing looks absolutely owned the screen once upon a time, but the man who gave us Sundance is a Kid no more. He’s appeared onscreen relatively little in the last two decades, so to see how those matinée icon looks have faded feels like a man embracing old age. There’s no vanity here; with no co-stars and barely fifty words of dialogue in the entire film, Redford is front and centre. Rough hands scour maps and strain shows in every wrinkle as he adjusts his sails and rigging. Being made so aware of our lead’s age also highlights Redford’s remarkable physical performance. As he sails on from the yacht’s initial mishap, storms roll in. Redford is thrown about the yacht like a rag doll on a spin cycle. It is genuinely impressive to see a 77-year-old hang from the sides and mast of his yacht with the dedication and nous of a real mariner. It’s a challenge for any actor, let alone one so well known and so much older than his classic image.

As the storm batters the damaged vessel, Chandor never gives Redford a moment to let his guard slip. He shoots tight and close (which means the occasional CGI background does stick out), and gives a kinetic energy to his stripped-down script. His previous effort, the slick and biting Margin Call, boasted great performances but never felt particularly cinematic. Here, Chandor revels in cinema’s ability to make a lot from a little. The first half of the film takes place entirely in and around the yacht, whilst the second act action transfers to the even more restrictive setting of an inflatable dinghy. The stricken Virginia Jean ultimately succumbs to the elements, and our man is pushed to his absolute limits. There’s never a lot onscreen to hold the attention outside of Redford, but we’re invested in his plight all the way through. In his eyes is a barebones survivalist instinct that anyone could relate to if pushed so far. A mishap in the dinghy leads to Redford exploding in a primal and empathetic moment, the point when it genuinely starts to feel like all is lost. Fate and nature are cruel opponents, especially when they seem to collude against us. Redford and Chandor chart the necessary fightback with dignity and few frills, but plenty of thrills. The outcome is unsure, but All Is Lost‘s technique is masterful, and the central performance by Redford is a sure and steady anchor.