DVD Review - All is Lost

Robert Redford won Best Actor by the New York Film Critics Circle for All is Lost. Redford plays an unnamed, middle age sailor, alone on a sailboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits, who encounters trouble after trouble on the open water, pushing him closer and closer to death.

Nominated for 4 Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Director for J. C. Chandor who also wrote the screenplay, this is Chandor's second feature and it's almost completely opposite of his first feature Margin Call (2011). Margin Call was dialogue-driven and had a huge cast in a very insular setting. All is Lost has practically no dialogue, only one actor for nearly two hours in a very open setting.

For Chandor, this is a very bold move. To go from a movie that's all about spoken words and human interaction and no special effects to a movie that's all about its visuals and the absence of humanity with tons of special effects and is something that shows his range as a filmmaker and that his scope is not limited.

This movie is all action. It starts with the sailor's boat hitting a cargo container that has somehow been left adrift. The boat strikes the edge of the container and pokes a huge hole in the boat, which causes water to flood into the bottom deck where the sailor eats and sleeps. In fact, the boat hits the container while he's asleep.

Several questions arise that are never answered. All the questions go to how this collision could have happened. First is whether or not the boat were moving, while the sailor slept, because if so, wouldn't an experienced sailor make sure the sail and anchors are done, while he's asleep, especially if he's alone on the boat, so that the boat doesn't drift off course? Secondly, how could a huge container end up in the water and not have sunk to the bottom of the ocean by now? The container looks like it came from a cargo ship. Unless the ship was attacked and sunk, how could that container have just accidentally fallen off?

It's not that any of it matters because this collision proves to be an interesting way to open the film and show how good a sailor this man is and how good he is with dealing with problems on the open water. As we see, the sailor handles these problems very well. He gets the boat away from the container. He patches the hole in the boat and he does so very calmly and steadily.

Later, a powerful storm hits the sailor. A lot of strong wind and rain gets dumped. He's seriously soaked and knocked around. He's in fact terribly battered. Yet, he handles all of it calmly and steadily. It reminded me of the documentary Blackfish (2013). In that movie, a sequence shows a whale trainer who is held in the mouth of an orca that continues to drag him under water and won't let him go. Instead of freaking out, as a lot of people would, the whale trainer remains calm and steady.

Seeing Redford's performance mimic that calmness and steadiness rang true. It showed Redford's character is experienced and knowledgeable about nature. It showed that he understood when it comes to nature, getting freaked out is pointless because you can't control it. All you can control is yourself, so being calm and steady is the best thing to do. Obviously, he's human, so after being beat down, soaked, sun-baked, thirsty and hungry, he does eventually freak out but it's brief yet effective.

Things start to go downhill when the sailor has to abandon the boat and jump onto an air-inflated, life raft. I think Redford has a great acting moment as he wordlessly says goodbye to his boat, but things after that decline for me. One thing is that I didn't buy that the boat would take as long as it did to finally sink out of sight.

Things continued to decline for me when the sailor is passed by, not once, not twice but three-times by cargo ships. He's so close and he's shooting flairs and doesn't get the attention of any of the three. I went with it, but it wouldn't have bothered me so much, if I hadn't seen Captain Phillips (2013). Tom Hanks in that movie was on board a similar size cargo ship. He had binoculars to spot a small, Somaili boat as well as GPS to identify approaching objects. For three of the same kind of ships from Captain Phillips to pass Redford's character and no one notices smacked of ridiculousness, but I went with it, though I would have preferred if the ships hadn't been so close to Redford's or if he never saw them at all.

The movie lost me at the very final scene. Essentially, the unnamed sailor is so defeated that he allows himself to sink under the water, possibly to drown. I didn't buy this, given the actions he takes just prior. For him not to wait for a while, even a little while longer, wasn't believable. I've seen news stories about men lost at sea who have persisted and waited for rescue a lot longer, even with less than Redford's character, so for Redford to give in that moment didn't gel. The recent news story about Jose Salvador Alvarenga has me at a loss here.

Beyond that, Chandor and Redford do craft some interesting and striking moments. The first is Redford atop the mast with a rumble indicating a gathering storm and then the camera swinging out from Redford at the mast to revealing the storm clouds. It was great use of cinematography. Another is Redford in the life raft laying on his side and his hands over his ears, while angelic music plays. It's just a powerful moment and a contradicting one.

All is Lost is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, and I think these two scenes are good examples as to why. Musician Alex Ebert already won the Golden Globe for Best Original Score, and deservedly so.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.


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