Robert Redford stars in a one-person show as a man whose boat (and radio equipment) is incapacitated somewhere in the Indian Ocean and he struggles for 8 days to find land.
If you think that plotline sounds boring, the movie is decidedly not. Watching Redford—we never learn his character’s name—battle one catastrophe after another is quite suspenseful. At first, he faces the obstacles with the calmness of an experienced seaman. But then sh*t keeps happening, and we slowly see his humanity and will to survive stripped away.
Redford commands the screen, and with almost no dialogue (there’s a short bit of voice-over at the beginning, and he lets loose a profanity at one point but that’s it), he manages to convey the man’s intelligence as he considers each new crisis and figures out how to deal with it.
I like that he’s smarter than we are, and how each step isn’t explained to the audience. Because I know nothing about boating, a few times I didn’t get what the man was doing as he yanked this gizmo or turned that doodad on his boat, but there was great satisfaction (and internal “Aha!”s) when I could understand his intentions, such as how he planned to turn saltwater into drinkable water. Kudos to Redford and writer/director J.C. Chandor for being able to elucidate the character’s motivations without spoonfeeding.
Where the story falters, though, is in not telling the audience anything about the man’s past. Why is he even in the Indian Ocean? This movie has been compared to Gravity for also showcasing a person stranded among frightening natural elements and fighting to survive. But with Gravity, the emotional arc of Sandra Bullock’s scientist is clear. We know where she is at the beginning of the movie, and how she has changed by the end.
MILD SPOILER AHEAD
Knowing nothing about the man’s past in All Is Lost, we have no idea how this ordeal changes him, if at all. The whole point of any story is to invite the viewer to go on a journey to see how it affects the lead character(s), but I don’t know how the man’s life/personal outlook will be different after this experience. I can’t determine how far he’s come if I don’t know where he started. Maybe he was already Gandhi-like before he was stranded and didn’t need big life lessons to be so rudely thrusted upon him.
The lessons to learn from All Is Lost, then, are that Redford is still very much a leading man; a movie doesn’t need fancy effects, more than one character, or even dialogue to hold interest; but, like the man, a story still needs certain basic elements to stay afloat.
Nerd verdict: Redford’s All good; backstory is Lost
Photo: Roadside Attractions