After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.
TL/DR: You wouldn’t think a movie with no dialogue would be that interesting. And you would be wrong. 4 stars.
Note: this review has some minor spoilers.
Normally, I open my film reviews with a good quotation from the movie. Something funny, sharp, poignant, or even unsettling. I can’t exactly do that with All Is Lost, because there’s no dialogue in the entire film. I tried that once in a short story I wrote, but it’s not something I’ve heard of doing in a movie – at least nothing above a short film.
J.C. Chandor – writer/director of 2011’s Margin Call as well as this film – manages to pull off a very difficult task quite well, however. The opening scene, wherein our intrepid and resourceful hero awakes to the unmistakable crunch of a hull rupture, is at one and the same time both exciting and harrowing.
Above all, it’s so quiet. Never having been at sea myself other than on a cruise ship, the total lack of noise one gets when on the open sea is astounding. Barring the odd creak, the occasional rattle of the rigging, and the water sloshing against the boat beneath you, there’s nothing to hear, nothing to intrude upon the solace Redford’s character has achieved.
And solace we see, with “Our Man” being the sole character shown throughout the film. As a not-quite-novice seafarer – what comes before novice? – I was fascinated with the prepwork he did before the storm hit. The lashing down of the lines, the boxing up of stuff that could fly around, all of it. Things I never would’ve thought of suddenly became obvious, and the obvious became life-threatening. There are moments of heartbreak in this movie, especially when he loses what is clearly so meaningful to him, something so important and such a part of his life that your heart can’t help but break for him as he watches it slip away.
There were a couple parts of the movie that I didn’t like at all, and found more than a little unrealistic. While traversing the shipping lanes, two (!) ships fail to see his signal flares, including one that passes less than a few hundred yards from his position at night. This is highly unlikely, since big ships have lookouts posted – especially at night – to keep an eye out for things the computers that run the behemoths can’t see.
I also wasn’t a fan of the ending, because it left Our Man’s fate somewhat uncertain, at least to me. It certainly wasn’t the clear-cut, ‘here’s the end of the story’ moment that it should have been. I loathe movies like that. Films like Cube, for instance, or Inception, which “let the viewer figure out their own ending to the story.” Please, if you don’t end your story, then you’ve haven’t told a story – you’ve told part of a story. You’ve been a lazy story-teller. As an author, I find this pretentious and annoying.
My friend and fellow author Ania Ahlborn — go read all of her books, seriously — pointed out to me a few things about this film: it’s pretty bleak, through most of it; most humans would talk to themselves, either literally or more figuratively (a la ‘Wilson’ from Tom Hanks’ Cast Away), and she agreed with me about the ships. I hadn’t originally compared this film to Hanks’ blockbuster, if only because he doesn’t end up on an island. Ania brings up some good points, though. With Cast Away, Hanks gives us a few little victories here and there (finally making fire, fixing his tooth, learning to fish, etc) to break up the overwhelming adversity he’s subject to. We only have one of those in All Is Lost, rendering the balance of the movie more than a little dark.
I’m fairly certain I would start talking to myself, as Hanks did, but Our Man in this film doesn’t — not a word. Whether that’s because (as I posited) with his age, he’s said all he needs to say, or he’s just a naturally quiet and self-reliant person, we don’t know, and never find out. The other thing to consider is that we don’t see every single second of his life during the ordeal, so it could be that he is doing some talking, just not while we’re watching. It’s an interesting comparison between the two movies, but I don’t think All Is Lost is any lesser for it.
I was reminded during the discussion of an episode of Survivorman, “Lost at Sea,” wherein Les Stroud (the titular ‘Survivorman’) is set adrift in an inflatable raft and left to fend for himself for a week. It was, if memory serves, one of the two times Les had to be rescued by his safety crew during the filming of the series. The conditions were harsh at best, and deadly 24/7. I felt like I was watching a fictionalized version of that episode, and it was just as nervewracking and disturbing.
All that said, I still thought the bulk of the movie was good enough to warrant a 4th star, bringing it up from the mediocre 3-stars it would’ve been otherwise. Redford is masterful in his portrayal of the resourceful lead, and as usual, manages to find a way to make the audience feel exactly what the character feels, to bring us along for the ride. And it’s one helluva ride, and well worth the ticket price.
Just make sure to bring your life preserver!