Running time: 106 mins
Directed: J. C Chandor
Starring: Robert Redford (and some boats).
J. C Chandor’s Movie All is Lost depicts a very salty Robert Redford playing the familiar trope of a stranded sailor, alone and desperately struggling to keep himself alive after a mid-ocean disaster.
The movie begins with the scene of a nondescript floating object (we soon discover is a container) and a monologue from Redford’s unnamed character reading his last will and testament. Now that his body is broken and his soul has almost vacated him – all is lost.
Reminiscent of Life of Pi, All is Lost bridges a gap between cinematic realism and allegory, commencing with the first scene in which the aged Redford wakes up to discover that his yacht has been holed by a very anthropomorphic container. He frees his yacht from the floating crate, makes his repairs but his troubles continue and eventually he ‘finds’ himself adrift in a life-raft.
Throughout the movie the pastel colours depict the ocean as a surrealist landscape, a no place of sensory deprivation where time moves at a snails’ pace. Even the more violent scenes appear dislocating and removed from the cinematic frame; the sound is dull and the interior of the boat is relatively peaceful throughout… up to a point.
Similarly, Redford’s reactions to his life-threatening situation are counter-intuitive for the viewer. After watching videos of round-the-world yacht sailors frantically lashing, jury-rigging and battening-down everything to hand, other viewers in the room were cringing with the lack of hustle in Redford’s character.
Redford instead moves with the slowness of his years – a deliberate characterisation on Chandor’s part, as the allegorical relationship between Redford’s body and his disintegrating yacht is brilliantly subtle. I was especially moved when Redford repairs the hole in the side of his boat; watching him lay strands of fiberglass across the breach mirrored his attempts at patching a bloody gash on his forehead – just enough to keep it from sinking.
There are moments however when the Redford’s character really nails it… so to speak. During a storm he has decided to wait out below decks, the yacht roles over unexpectedly and the powerful intrusion of the outside world is visible in Redford’s eyes. His characteristically stoic veneer is broken for the briefest of seconds, leading a trusting viewer into a state of panic.
Initially I was excited to watch this movie as IMDB rated at a 6.2 and the rottentomatometer at a staggering 92% but the film has it’s flaws. Redford’s character is almost jarring to watch and the deliberate flattening-out of every scene can become a little tedious.
As with any Maritime epic, we expect to see heroicism, struggle and glory in survival with a joyful return home to admiration and success. The story of Redford’s character simply re-inscribes the life of the biblical character Job and his struggle with God. However Chandor’s resistance to gratify the viewer with myth-based conclusions, adds rather than detracts from the context of the movie. Redford meets every demand that his body places on him, earning his humanity and the viewer is left consistently hungry for new challenges for Redford to face. But there is no epiphanic moment, no transition from one state of being to another, Redford is simply an old man and the sea could easily have been replaced with the dilapidated house of an ageing widower.
Ultimately Chandor’s movie is extremely successful at fulfilling it’s remit, whilst also creating some visually stunning scenes: peaceful underwater shots of the sun breaking the water’s surface and made strange by ever increasing density of wildlife and imposing music. The sky, the wind, the sea and the sun are all included in the cinematic frame as entities that vie test the mettle of Redford’s resolve. Alex Ebert’s soundtrack is fantastic, although a little too clever at points, and the ending is certainly not gratifying but keeps you thinking.
All in all I would recommend you watch All is Lost, but give it a couple of days to sink in before recommending it to anyone else.