Robert Redford goes it alone in an epic struggle on the ocean
Starring Robert Redford
Directed by J.C. Chandor
PG-13, 106 min.
“I must go down to the seas again,” wrote British poet John Masefield in the early 1900s, rhapsodizing the “wind’s song and the white sail shaking.”
Robert Redford’s character in All Is Lost probably read that classic maritime poem, once upon a time. But we wouldn’t know. In fact, we don’t know much anything about him at all, including his name, where’s he’s from, or why he’s alone on a sailboat, headed across the Indian Ocean, 1,700 miles from land.
All we know is that, in opening narration over a scene of lapping waves, he informs us (in words that sound like he’s reading his farewell note) that he’s “tried everything” and “all is lost.”
Then the story flashes back so we can watch his dire predicament unfold from the beginning. Awakened from a nap by water lapping on the floor of the cabin of his boat, he realizes his vessel’s been struck—its side pierced—by the jagged edge of a floating metal cargo container. Suddenly, his little pleasure craft has become a mini-Titanic.
But “Our Man” (as he’s listed in the credits) doesn’t panic. He immediately springs into action, stoically, calmly going about the business of survival. Then he notices dark clouds on the horizon, and things go from bad to worse.
Redford, the only actor in the entire film, gives a monumental, majestic performance. It’s his show all the way, and a spectacular, galvanizing display of how this one-time Hollywood “golden boy,” now 77, can still commandeer the screen.
As he shimmies to the tippy-top of his ship’s mainmast to fix an unhooked wire, later gets swept overboard, and eventually has to abandon ship altogether into an inflatable lifeboat, his age-defying athleticism is amazing. And through it all, he’s a man of few words—almost none at all.
Director/writer J.C. Chandor, whose only other film was Margin Call (2011), working with cinematographers Frank G. DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini, and three-time Oscar-winning sound editor Richard Hymns, creates a dynamic, driving existential narrative with only the slightest smidgen of dialogue. You realize just how unnecessary, impractical, and downright useless words can be in situations, like this one, when there’s no one to speak them to.
(You also realize just how yappy with blabber most other movies can be.)
Will Our Man endure? Can he make it into the international shipping lanes, where a passing freighter may—or may not—spot him? Will he hang on to the will to live…or will that, too, sink beneath the waves? And what about those circling sharks?
I’m not telling. But I can tell you one thing: After watching All Is Lost, with all due respect to the British poet, I think I’ll pass on “going down to the seas again,” at least for a while, and I certainly won’t be going all alone in a sailboat.
—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine