Review by Pete Mason
One actor. That’s all the casting for “All Is Lost.” Just one actor. But when that actor happens to be Robert Redford, well, that changes things a bit.
Sailing the Indian Ocean on a yacht, without a known purpose, backstory, family or history of the character – not even a name for him, for who has to say his name? – Redford (known as “Our Man” in the credits) braves the elements, a damaged ship and despair over eight days stranded in the Indian Ocean without a glimmer of hope.
In a solo performance at sea, there is little need for dialogue, or monologue in this case. Redford speaks the most before the movie title appears, reading a letter that apologizes to unknown recipients, but likely his family. Aside from this, he speaks only into a radio to report and S.O.S., screams “Fuuuuuuuuck” when his fresh water becomes contaminated with sea water, and finally when he yells at passing ships. That’s it. This isn’t “The Artist¸” but as silent films go, this is pretty close. The sound editors and foley artists are the only ones keeping the film from being a silent film.
A tale of an old man and the sea, Redford looks like an L.L. Bean model at 70 years old, still as good looking as ever. In one scene, after a storm, he even takes the time to shave. Why? Because stubbly Robert Redford clearly isn’t what audiences are looking for. They want smooth, dapper, handsome Redford. And that’s what they get for most of the movie. And rightly so, because there is nothing to look at but Redford, the boat and the water, and with nearly no dialogue, his face reveals the emotions he is dealing with when words will not suffice.
“All Is Lost” brings to mind “Cast Away,” another story of survival, but one that lasted far longer and involved a volleyball for Tom Hanks to retain/lose his sanity with. The movie’s tagline, “Never give up,” could apply to “Cast Away” as well, but has no land, no floating supplies, nothing but perseverance and focus on the goal of surviving, that keeps Redford alive in the film.
The three acts of the film finds Our Man dealing with one calamity or another. The first has a container that has fallen off a container ship, ramming slowly into the side of the yacht while Our Man is sleeping. The container, filled with shoes, puts a large enough hole in the boat that water is taken on, and Our Man has to slowly patch it up. Using his sea and boating knowledge, Our Man patches the boat up as best as he can and is as confident as he can to make it through the struggle, without navigation equipment or a radio.
Then the boat encounters a storm that rocks the boat a fair amount, but leaves him shaken for the time being, but still, he does not let up. The second storm/act though – this is the one that does the ship in, breaking the mast and damaging the boat beyond repair. Our Man gets together what supplies he can and sets off of the sinking Virginia Jean into an inflatable life boat, where Act Three picks up. Using what little supplies come with the life boat – a modified fishing pole, some food, flares, etc…, as well as his boating and survival skills, Our Man is on his last legs, coping with storms that flip the inflatable boat upside down and nearly drown him in his place of last refuge. But he doesn’t back down and keeps using a sextant and map to find his way into the shipping lanes, where he can find a passing ship to rescue him.
Sharks circle below the raft, his water supply is limited and all hope seems lost. The ending is somewhat vague as to whether he survived or not, leaving the viewer to determine his fate. When the final scene closes, all you can do is sit back and say “Wow.” It’s one of those movie endings that sticks with you for hours afterwards.