Redford never misses in gripping 'All is Lost'
By CRAIG WANOUS
Robert Redford carries this film beautifully, even though he barely speaks a word throughout it.
"All is Lost," Rated PG-13, 106 minutes. Playing at the Tropic Cinema in Key West.
Sailors beware: After seeing "All is Lost," you may never want to leave port again. What "Jaws" did for swimming in the ocean "All Is Lost" does for sailing.
Writer/director J.C. Chandor, Oscar-nominated for 2011's "Margin Call," serves up a film that is tense, suspenseful and thoroughly scary. This is only his second full-length film but it shows he has successfully made the transition from TV work to the big screen.
There is only one actor seen in the film, Our Man, played by Robert Redford. With this performance, Redford shows why his Hollywood career has lasted for more than 50 years.
With only two lines of dialogue in the entire film, he demonstrates he has no need for an elaborate script in order to command the viewer's attention. This is Redford's tour de force and, his once-boyish face now weathered and worn, he fits perfectly the role of the grizzled old single-handed sailor.
The plot is simple.
On a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, an unnamed man (Redford) is awakened by a sudden noise. He discovers his sailboat has hit a shipping container and is taking on water. All of his electronics are ruined, including his navigation equipment and radio, so he is on his own to survive.
He patches the hole in the hull just as a violent storm strikes and he and his boat barely survive. Murphy's Law seems to be at work throughout the film.
Slowly, inexorably, like the boat, his prospects for survival begin to sink and Our Man's only hope is that ocean currents will carry him into the shipping lanes, where he can signal a passing vessel.
The cinematography is beautiful and vivid enough that viewers will almost feel the need for foul-weather gear as the rain, wind and waves batter Our Man and his yacht. Those who don't sail might not follow all the sailing scenes in the film, but the sense of impending disaster is ever-present and landlubbers will feel it as much as boaters.
Howling winds, pounding rain and crashing seas serve as the soundtrack to this survival story, and the score only seems to intrude the few times viewers are aware of it. The music is elegant but seems superfluous since the sounds of Mother Nature dominate the film.
Using only facial expressions and body language, Redford manages to express a gamut of emotions that such a desperate situation would evoke. Battling storms, the blazing sun, thirst, hunger and sharks, he shows joy, fear, acceptance, hope and despair without the need for spoken words.
His performance as the lone man battling nature is reminiscent of Spencer Tracy's role in the 1958 Hemingway story "The Old Man and the Sea", but with much less dialogue (one of Redford's few lines is the F-bomb, so parents of young children should be prepared).
Many people who sail have been a little tough on the movie, with lots of comments on the character's numerous mistakes, ranging from when he put up the storm jib ("You would do that sooner rather than later.") to the stupidity of removing the hatch boards from the companionway ("Don't open the door and let the ocean in!"). But most sailors do agree that Redford's character moves deliberately, almost in slow motion, when the stuff hits the fan.
Like them, when things get tough, most of them tend to slow down and carefully think things through. Could this happen in real life? According to statistics, about 2,000 shipping containers are lost overboard in the world's oceans every year. So the events depicted in the film are frighteningly authentic and occur frequently enough to be a concern to deep-water sailors.
But for those watching in the calm and quiet of the movie theater, the only worry is whether Our Man is going to live or die. Like a mystery novel where the killer is revealed on the last page, director Chandor makes viewers wait until the very end.
Finally, after emotionally exhausting the audience for an hour and forty-six minutes, the answer comes, but only in the last 60 seconds of the film. To see for yourself, go see "All Is Lost." But don't forget your foul-weather gear.
And viewers who stay for the end credits will be rewarded: This is probably the only film ever made that gives credit to a sailboat -- actually, three of them. Three different sailboats are named and the producers thank them for giving their lives in the filming of "All Is Lost."