All Is Lost (2013)
Release Date: October 25th, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: J.C. Chandor Actors: Robert Redford
n July 13th, 1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits, with a half-day’s rations left and all hope of salvation lost, an unnamed man (Robert Redford) adrift at sea admits that it’s time to give up. In a hand-written letter, he apologizes to his family and wishes they know that he fought until the very end. Utilizing the familiar, tired, uninspiring technique of starting a film at the end before jumping back to the start, an intertitle interrupts to report that the story is now reverting back to the beginning of his ordeal.
Eight days earlier, the lone sailor is asleep in his cabin when water begins gushing onto the floor. He lunges on deck to discover that his small vessel, the Virginia Jean, has collided with a shipping container (of shoes) floating near the Indian Ocean. After tilting his boat to prevent the hole from taking on more water, he patches the cavity with some handy supplies. He’s also successfully able to remove all the water from his quarters. Sadly, his radio is damaged and the potential for broadcasting an SOS is limited. When a violent storm strikes with fearsome rapidness, he’s tossed overboard while grappling with the sails, further thrown about when the ship capsizes repeatedly, rolling in the turbulent waves, and finally knocked out by an angry swell that slams him into a pole. With his tub in ruins, quickly being engulfed by the tempest, he releases the inflatable life raft for an immediate sanctuary to wait out the squall.
Unlike in “Cast Away,” the film most likely to be mentioned in comparison, Robert Redford’s lead character does not attempt to retain his humanity through communication. The amount of passing time is the primary reason for that difference. Instead, “All Is Lost” takes the more realistic route by having the solitary role remain almost completely silent in his bleak, watery isolation. Normally, it’s assumed that acting by oneself is a particularly difficult task – but here, Redford doesn’t have to muster believable interactions of any kind. Capturing routine activities with a camera isn’t showcasing a performance as much as it is simple observation. He’s seen shaving, eating, fiddling with the rigging, steering, repairing, organizing, utilizing a sextant, and eventually tending to wounds and salvaging wreckage. To his credit, Redford’s lone man is wholly watchable in his unremarkable activities.
There’s not much of a plot at work in “All Is Lost.” It’s an account of perseverance, a tense survival exercise that serves as a cautionary document more than a masterpiece of fiction storytelling. Many of the scenes of the boat overturning and Redford combating agitated waters are expertly achieved, though the harrowing nature of the events are notably lessened as they affect only a single survivor. Like “Buried,” “127 Hours,” or “Moon,” but to a greater degree, this new single-person adventure routinely lacks interactive substance, made even more apparent by the absence of dialogue, flashbacks, or other generally expected modes of connection with the audience. At least “Life of Pi” had fantasy elements brought about from imaginative narration (and wasn’t entirely set at sea). Even Redford’s expressions are markedly repressed (also aiding in realism) and the background music remains mostly unobtrusive. It’s occasionally amusing but certainly not theatrical, even when despair and desperation finally set in and sympathetic emotions can be more easily gleaned (partnered with an excruciatingly manipulative and undeniably expected near-rescue by a passing Maersk cargo ship). The conclusion, however, conjures a rather jubilant, if purposely ambiguous, perspective to the dismal subject matter, redemptively erasing the prior, less thrilling qualities.
– Mike Massie