“All Is Lost” Has Much to Discover
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
If someone decided to do a movie with only one cast member and practically no dialogue, he’d need to hire a pretty good actor to pull it off. Someone like, say, Robert Redford.
That’s exactly what J.C. Chandler did. Writer and director of a survival-at-sea movie titled “All Is Lost,” he hired Robert Redford.
A lot of the movie’s promotion has been sparse in describing its plot. In fact, Wikipedia sums it up with one only line: “A man is lost at sea and struggles to survive.” So succinct that a Wikinote was posted, saying, “This section requires expansion.”
Okay, here goes.
Robert Redford plays an unnamed sailor, enjoying a leisurely voyage on his 39-foot yacht “Virginia Jean.” He wears a wedding ring. Is the boat named after his wife? We don’t really know. But here he is on a solo sail in the Indian Ocean, somewhere between Indonesia and Madagascar, not a care in the world.
Until he awakens to a boat filling with water.
No, there aren’t any Somali pirates like in “Captain Phillips.” Here the threat is a floating cargo container like those carried by Captain’s Phillip’s ship. The metal container has rammed into the “Virginia Jean,” puncturing the hull, leaving a gaping hole into its side. The situation is bad. The onboard electrical system has been wiped out. And the boat is sinking.
But “Our Man” (as Redford is identified in the film’s credits) remains skillful. He patches the hole with epoxy and cloth, averting a disaster. He shows himself to be competent, a survivor, a man we can admire for his cool head and strong hands.
But like in a Greek drama, Fate is working against him. A ferocious storm throws itself upon him, tossing and smashing the boat. Our man hangs on, still survives.
Unable to communicate his plight, he gathers provisions, hauls out maps and an old-fashioned mariner’s sextant, and climbs aboard his lifeboat. The plan is, using a copy of “Celestial Navigation for Yachtsmen,” he will find his way to the nearest shipping lane where he can be rescued by a passing freighter. However, in this metaphysical world of water and sky, it doesn’t work out quite that way.
After all, the movie is titled “All Is Lost.”
While most of the movie is told in flashback, the story begins on Day 8, with Our Man composing a letter of apology and farewell … to whom we’re not sure. That absentee wife? Unknown loved ones? The world in general?
Is this indeed a Greek tragedy where our protagonist is about to be punished for the hubris of being a handsome, well-to-do man of leisure?
“All Is Lost” is now playing at the Tropic Cinema.
This is the second feature film by J.C. Chandler, his first being the Oscar-nominated “Margin Call.” But “All Is Lost” -- a singular old-man-against-the-sea yarn -- is the opposite of what you might have been expecting from the director who gave you a talky, indoor, people-crowded drama about financial institutions.
Nonetheless, Chandler has placed his bet on an aging, leathery-faced Robert Redford, perhaps vying for the first Academy Award for Best Acting of his career. Sure, he won an Oscar for directing “Ordinary People” and received an Honorary Oscar for his body of work as an “actor, director, producer, creator of Sundance, inspiration to independent and innovative filmmakers everywhere.” But never a straight-up golden statuette for his acting.
This might change.
That fact that he might pull it off while uttering only a few Voice Over words would make it all the more of an achievement -- but that’s quite possible, thanks to what’s being called The Artist Effect. With “The Artist,” its star Jean Dujardin, the movie itself, and three others won for a silent movie. “The Life of Pi” and the more recent “Gravity” are also being cited as great films with very little dialogue.
While this powerful man-against-the-elements movie does not have many words in it, you’ll find it offers much to talk about.