All is Lost (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★
An unnamed man (Robert Redford) wakes up in his boat to find that water is flooding his yacht. He goes outside to investigate and finds that an orange shipping container has breached the side. He works quickly to patch the hull but it proves to be the least of his problems when he notices ominous nimbus clouds from afar.
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, “All is Lost” is a small miracle because it successfully engages the gut and the mind with almost no dialogue for over a hundred minutes. Many other movies, including similar stories of survival, accomplish far less with a lot more words. This story is about a gentleman in his late years who refuses to die in the ocean. We learn about him through his action and reaction against the elements that nature throws his way.
There is no subplot. I anticipated some syrupy subplot about the lead character having a family or whatever he will leave behind if it just so happens that he fails to make it out alive. Such a tired device never rears its head. But we are curious about him. If you wake up and find that your boat is slowly sinking in the Indian Ocean, would you panic? I most certainly would. But the nameless man remains composed. He seems experienced. Observing him attempting to fix the hole is like looking an ace student solving algebraic equations: following a step-by-step process and having the confidence that everything will work out in the end. We hope he will not overlook a simple mistake.
So, we look a little closer and ask questions. We learn about his background through the clothes and accessories he wears. Does he own the boat or is it a rental? Where is he from? Where is he heading? What does he think is the worst case scenario? Few answers are provided so we imagine. In a way, we form a connection with him through being accustomed to his presence but not really knowing him as a person. We have questions and to see him die before they are answered means a lack of closure. That is why when he is thrown off the boat and his life is threatened in some way, our heart races or we hold our breath in anticipation.
Redford’s acting and Chandor’s direction form a partnership. When the actor’s movement is brisk, the camera parallels the sudden motion. When the camera is up close to the actor’s face, the performer paints a story with his eyes. With nothing but endless water and skies as a backdrop, the partnership must not waver or else it risks sacrificing the tension to be delivered only at the right time.
“All is Lost” is a high class dramatic thriller. It is limited in scope by choice but it gets just about every element exactly right. It supports the idea that it is more difficult to pull off smaller films. Here, there is no distraction designed to create a spectacle out of nothing. There is only a damaged boat, the dark water, the portentous skies, and the resourceful man.