Somewhere along the way here, I swear Robert Redford was going to bump into the guys of the Andrea Gale and he’d have to hop aboard Clooney’s doomed ship in the middle of his perfect storm; then later when he comes within feet of a massive cargo ship, it looked like Captain Rich Phillips was possibly going to be the 70-something-year-old sailor’s savior.
Alas, neither actually turned out to be the case, and Redford — credited in this film simply as ‘Our Man’ — must continue to find a way to hold on, and simply wait. Wait to live. Wait to die. Wait for a resolution, that would never come. (Yes — yes that is indeed a third stranded-at-sea-themed movie reference. . . . .but what is it??)
All is Lost is a strange film. Neither a visionary achievement as I’ve seen it touted as, nor anywhere close to being boring either, this is a film trapped in Purgatory; destined forever to serve up heaping helpings of indifference to those who are seeking character development — who wouldn’t, in a movie about someone trying to survive the elements?
If there’s one element of this production that may need orienting, it’s that Redford does indeed turn in a performance to be reckoned with come the awards ceremony. Saddled with as few as perhaps five lines of dialogue throughout the course of an hour and forty-five minutes, his sailor-dude-guy is tasked with resorting to his most primitive of survival modes, a challenge Redford was apparently up for. Emoting with virtually just his facial expressions, the actor is likewise forced to turn in an economical performance, a feat that does pay off come time to sink or swim.
However, as good as Redford is at portraying Our Man as a supremely efficient, calm individual, even in the face of this kind of adversity, there’s absolutely no entry point for the audience as far as finding out who exactly he is as a human being is concerned. We will come to quickly understand how experienced of a sailor he is. But why is he out here? Where is he going. . or at least was trying to get to? If he passes away on the ocean, who will he be survived by? The drama surrounding Our Man is. . .e-hem. . .watered down by the fact that we will get no such resolution.
That’s incredibly frustrating, really, when considering the ride otherwise is quite compelling. In many ways, All is Lost provides an alternative route through the terror and isolation revealed in Alfonso Cuarón’s outer space thriller just a month or so ago. Whereas Gravity thrust us into the incoherent depths of a world beyond our atmosphere, All is Lost is intent on selling the same kind of experience safely inside of it. The oceans are some seriously large chunks of real estate, and God help you if ever you’re so lucky as to come crashing into a randomly floating cargo container in the middle of the night.
Such is the plight of Our Man, who immediately goes about fixing the ship’s damaged hull and rigging up a system to bail out the water from the cabin. After several unsuccessful attempts at sending out S.O.S. calls to the Coast Guard, he comes to the realization that all electronics have been conveniently rendered useless. Surely it can’t seem to get much worse than that, right? Unfortunately it does, and on the following evening a strong thunderstorm threatens to wipe him out completely. He manages to see through the night, but is forced to board his emergency raft after taking on enough water to sink the Virginia Jean.
The cost of not giving this man a character, a reason for being, is constantly exposed by the lack of any other flaws in the film. Such frustration is compounded by the film’s perfect pacing. There’s this obvious transitional point when Our Man abandons his yacht and enters the raft, yet most of the scenes that make up these two “halves” pass by so breezily that the ending to the film comes almost as a shock.
All is Lost can’t help but feel robbed of any meaning when the film’s sole cast member (credited or otherwise) has spent the entire time in anonymity. We gather his survival skills are sharp — most of us likely wouldn’t make it past day three under these circumstances. He makes it to number eight. Yet, if the grand take-away here is to show how truly limited our species is when it comes to habitat — clearly, we cannot survive out at sea — I feel like there are better films already reaching for this. I’m not sure this is a fair evaluation, but it’s what I have been able to surmise with such limited information.
Recommendation: Robert Redford fans are likely to be impressed (again), since he commands the screen for the entire time. But with the only other character on display being his boat, he doesn’t exactly have a lot of competition. See it for his ability to convey a good range of emotions in relative silence, see it for the scenery (the cinematography is gorgeous), but do not go to this movie searching for meaning. I’m quite sure there’s none to be had.
Running Time: 105 mins.
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