All Is Lost
Some people dream of setting out on their own to sail the vast oceans of our world. It seems like a grand adventure, until something goes wrong and you find yourself slowly taking on water hundreds of miles from help. What to do when your grand adventure turns into a disaster?
Our Man (Robert Redford: The Company You Keep), the unnamed protagonist, wakes on his yacht to gentle waves splashing at his face. Wading through the cabin, he finds a hole poked into the side of his boat. A rogue shipping container from a freighter has collided with the Virginia Jean.
As luck would have it, the hole was pierced over Our Man’s desk. Water has been sloshing over the radio, navigation equipment and laptop all night as it filled the cabin. With his boat impaired, equipment destroyed and electricity shorted, Our Man sets about saving himself.
He spends a day using a patch kit and wood to repair the Virginia Jean, barely. He rigs a pump. He even finds time to cook himself dinner. The repairs aren’t pretty, but they’ll hold as long as the weather stays calm.
Cue storm clouds in the distance.
As a massive storm batters his yacht, Our Man realizes that he’s in real trouble. With the water rising and the writing on the wall, he abandons the Virginia Jean for a life boat. With little food and more violent seas to come, Our Man survives on the hope he’ll drift into a shipping channel. But the sea is vast and full of perils.
You might gather from the title that our hero’s situation is bleak. Yet All Is Lost is, in essence, about the blind, futile hope that keeps humans striving for survival even when it seems impossible. Tense, moving and beautifully shot, this is an engrossing tale of survival and stubborn refusal to accept death.
Director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) was a filmmaker made for the sea. The storm sequences are scary and intense. You may find yourself bobbing and weaving with the ship as it’s tossed about the ocean.
Chandor wisely plays with the vastness of the ocean to show Redford’s vulnerability. Great undulating wide shots without a dot of land in sight emphasize just how alone he is in the sea. With underwater photography, Chandor shows that Our Man is an interloper, floating above a bustling world of activity that doesn’t care about his survival. While not a conventional monster, the ocean in All Is Lost is terrifying simply because it is indifferent.
As an unnamed protagonist with barely 10 lines of dialog in a nearly two-hour movie, Redford has an unenviable acting challenge. Already legend in American cinema, he gives what may be his finest performance. Without speech, he crafts an interesting, multi-dimensional character, a stoic, inventive sailor in the tradition of Hemingway novels. Redford’s silent impact is immediate. As an audience, we collectively hold our breath and hoped the ocean won’t swallow him whole.
Powerful, beautiful and wholly terrifying, All Is Lost is a movie for those who respect cinema as a storytelling art form. There are no car chases, pithy catchphrases or sexy women to distract you from life’s troubles. This movie isn’t a popcorn flick. It’s a film that offers you a meditation on what drives us to strive for life with an actor who has only gotten better with age.