In a year of complex and huge films, it’s the smaller, simpler films that end up providing the audience a different experience. More so with this year, a lot of films seem to be going the route of surviving catastrophic events. Be it in space, in captivity, or lost at sea, these films all rely on only a few central characters and the will to survive. The only questions on the audience’s mind are will they survive? Or, how will they survive? Fortunately, that’s what these movies are all about and it helps when you have a legendary actor doing all the heavy lifting.
Known as “Our Man” (Robert Redford), this man is the lone man upon his sailboat. At about 1,700 miles out from the nearest shipping routes, he’s out in the middle of the Indian Ocean without a soul in sight. All he has is the food on the ship, the wind on his side, the ocean at his feet and the clear skies to calm his days. That is, until he awakes one day to a hole in his ship’s hull, pierced by a stray shipping container. Immediately, he works to remove the container and repair his ship, so as to avoid any flooding.
Thinking that he’s in the clear, our man begins to fix his ship up, when out of the blue, a storm is seen in the distance. At this far out in the middle of the ocean, the weather fluctuates between calm and aggressive and the sea is either your friend or your enemy. As titanic waves crash into his ship, our man is tossed around like a ragdoll and finds himself staring death in the face. After deciding to set off in his life raft with a survival kit, our man only has the will to live and his instincts to try to be rescued.
What fascinated me about this film is the lack of dialog. All Is Lost is a one man show for Redford, so immediately, everyone’s mind will travel to Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Whereas Hank’s went crazy and spent the movie talking to himself and his volleyball, Wilson, Redford barely utters more than a few lines of dialog. This would certainly turn some people off to the film, as it first did for me, but the more I thought about it, that lack of dialog actually makes sense. When most people drive alone, walk alone, sit alone, or do anything alone, we rarely talk to ourselves. We don’t often talk as we work alone either, so in that sense, the lack of dialog in this film makes sense and works very well.
Redford, who was 76 when this movie was filmed, absolutely deserves all the praise that he’s been receiving for his performances, At such an old age, it’s jaw-dropping to see him climbing up a 40 ft. pole and to see him being swept across the ship. He’s constantly being flung around and is making contact with a lot of hard objects. More than that, he does find himself in the water a few times and is being dragged around by the ship. Not many people in general could handle that, but here is an older actor who isn’t using a stuntman. Everything that he goes through completely defines his dedication to the role and the film, and he emotes his character so well that he doesn’t have to talk to get across what he feels.
Alongside the lack of dialog, is the lack of a major score in this film. I’m a big believer in the power of a single song that can make or break a movie. Whether it’s a string ensemble, a familiar band, or a DJ mixing sounds together, a soundtrack is an essential piece to a great film. Throughout All Is Lost, most of the noise in the film derives from the ever-swaying ocean and the creaks from the sailboat. Occasionally, Redford may utter a sentence or the items in the ship may clink together, but that’s about it. The soundtrack only lends a hand in the beginning and the end in dramatic situations. A great soundtrack also tells a story of its own and I felt as if not having a more prevalent soundtrack really hurt this film. We, as the audience, can only take so much silence and emotion from the one character in the film, before we start to get bored.
I found my patience wearing thin in this film, from time-to-time, but the instances in which Redford applies clever survival tactics had me right back in the story. Those, and the moment where he screams the “F” word from the top of his lungs. I’m guessing that his character was a Boy Scout at a younger age, because his ability to desalinate salt-water, create a working compass, and find his position without GPS are skills that not many possess. The overarching message that this film sends is that the sea is a beautiful and dangerous place that requires you to be prepared to survive. Its bi-polar tendencies can mean life or death, increasingly so if you are out to sea alone. This film emphasizes the fact that you should always prepare for the worst and be able to survive seemingly impossible situations. Director J.C. Chandor does a great job sending this message, as well as coupling it with gorgeous shots of the open sea and of vicious waves and weather patterns that occur naturally.
While All Is Lost is in someways a triumph of a film, I know that it’s not for everyone. The average audience member will grow tedious as the close to two-hour film passes by with little dialog. I had the only other two people in my theater walk out after 15 minutes stating that “this movie is garbage and Redford isn’t even acting”. I feel like that’s going to be a common response for some who go and see this film, but I also think that those who can appreciate a simplistic idea and film will come to enjoy the effort that Redford and Chandor put into it. Redford’s struggle to survive is wonderful to watch and emphasizes everything that’s great about him. He’s without a doubt, a lock for a nomination for Best Actor, but I don’t think that the film will receive any other nominations. It has its flaws and is sometimes dull, but it’s astonishing that this film got made and works as well as it does. I would recommend this movie, but you just need to know what you’re getting into beforehand. If you can accept All Is Lost for what it is, I’m sure you’re going to enjoy it as much as I did.
All Is Lost Trailer