J. C. Chandor’s All Is Lost continues a theme of prestige pictures this fall. It has a lot in common with both Gravity–the struggle for survival in a harsh environment, much of it while alone–and Captain Phillips–hoping to make it alive out of a lifeboat. In fact, a Maersk tanker makes a cameo in All Is Lost, too bad it wasn’t the Alabama, or otherwise we could have imagined Tom Hanks at the helm.
I liked All Is Lost a little better than Gravity, and not as much as Captain Phillips. The biggest difference between it and Gravity, aside from changing outer space to the Indian Ocean, is the dialogue. Robert Redford, unlike Sandra Bullock, has no George Clooney to talk to, and she continues talking after he’s gone. Redford, aside from a few cries of “Help!” is stone silent.
Chandor has taken an interesting, and I think successful, tack on this film. In addition to not having Redford talk to himself throughout his ordeal, we get absolutely no backstory, no flashbacks, no dead children. He doesn’t even have a name–he’s called “Our Man” in the credits. The only glimpse of a former life is a voiceover of a note he writes, facing his death, in which he apologizes to someone. Even this is unnecessary.
Redford, Our Man, awakes on his sailboat one morning to find that a rogue cargo container, carrying sneakers, has put a hole in the side of his boat. He manages to repair it, but his radio is shot. Then a storm kicks up, and he has to decamp to a lifeboat, watching his boat sink below the waves. He is able to track his course, and sees he is heading for a shipping lane, but is unable to flag down any ships.
I had no idea whether Redford would actually be saved in this film–it was the kind of film that didn’t offer easy comforts–so I won’t spoil the ending. Suffice it to say that Redford has no immediate hope of survival, as he is adrift, rapidly running out of food, and his only water is out of a makeshift desalination rig. (The one moment of despair is when he realizes his jug of potable water has been contaminated by sea water).
Redford is the only cast member, and the old star makes the most of it. Even though he doesn’t say more than a dozen words, he is gripping. You can see his thought processes, but without the actor indicating. He is clearly a veteran seamen, and we see him snap into action, but there are moments when he completely loses his shit (the water issue, and when a shark steals his fish, perhaps a reminder of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea). Redford is 77, and looks it, but he’s fit (and must have been waterlogged).
I wouldn’t call this a great film, though. While I admire it for its lack of extraneous details, this also makes it a story about one man, and doesn’t transcend its subject matter. It’s really just a good old-fashioned sea tale.
My grade for All Is Lost: B+