All is Lost (2013) / Drama-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Robert Redford
Director: J.C. Chandler
Screenplay: J.C. Chandler
Review published October 26, 2013
We never find out the name of Robert Redford's (Lions for Lambs, The Clearing) character in the course of this film, though I do think it might be a nifty notion to name him 'Al', just so we could have the title, Al is Lost (which might have made more sense, come to think of it).
There's not much of a story to All is Lost, as you pretty much get the whole movie summed up in one sentence: a man in a yacht on the Indian Ocean must fight for survival when an accident causes a sizable hole in the boat, which fills it with water.
I suppose there's more to the story in terms of developments, including the malfunctioning of the navigation and communication equipment, and massive storms that threaten the boat even more. But to tell you more than this might ruin the entire film, as there are only a handful of other major events to this very simple story between the beginning of the film and when the credits roll. What I can tell you is that we start near the end of the film, at the precise moment when Redford's character, referred to in the credits as "Our Man", feels that all is indeed lost. From there, we flash back eight days to the beginning of his mishaps, and we see all of the events that take place to get us up to that point in his life.
All is Lost is rated PG-13 for the instance of one prominent vulgarity uttered by Our Man, and if you were someone struggling in the middle of a vast ocean with dwindling rations and one mishap after another, you'd likely use that word too, probably more than he does. It's not the only line in the script for Redford, but there aren't many more, most occurring during the voiceover that starts the film. I'd imagine that if you were to type them all out, you'd likely not fill up half a sheet of paper.
But the pleasure of All is Lost doesn't come through the dialogue anyway, as this is merely a tale of survival, or the attempt at survival (can't spoil it, you know), of one isolated man against a powerful ocean, everything that lies above, and everything that lies beneath. It's clear from his voiceover that this is a man who has lived a life of certain regrets, though it is perhaps only now that he has little to do but reflect on his life that he realizes them, putting them all in one last-ditch effort to make one final statement to someone, anyone - and, hopefully, the important ones -- the ones he may have reason to apologize to.
All is Lost is a sparse, minimalist effort by writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) that features little more than well-edited scenes of nautical survival, and a pitch-perfect physical performance by Redford, handling some pretty impressive stunt work at the venerable age of 77. It's not a film that will thrill everyone, as there isn't much of a story here except to see if Our Man lives or dies at the end, and even then, some will leave the theater, understandably, wishing it were more than that. And if you're at all familiar with basic seamanship, some of the things Our Man does, or doesn't do, or didn't think to stock on his boat, may annoy you to the point of severe frustration.
This survival-at-sea drama is also in the unenviable position of having to compete in theaters against a much higher profile survival-in-space drama, Gravity, which has groundbreaking special effects (in 3D and IMAX formats, to boot), more thematic resonance, and even bigger critical acclaim. Add to this the much more eventful survival-at-sea adventure of Captain Phillips, and this is one movie that will need more than a few flares to get your attention in the crowded high seas of cinema.
But if you're not one for a lot of noise and flashy, manufactured thrills, All is Lost is a no-muss, no-fuss adventure for those who prefer their adventure tales decidedly old school. It's just bare necessities -- one man against the elements. If that floats your boat, you'll find more to like than the 106 minutes you lose in this respectably well-told drama about the dangers of nature, and the fear, shared by many, of dying alone.
©2013 Vince Leo