CAPSULE: Robert Redford is traveling a long distance alone in a sailboat when mid-Indian-Ocean he hits a shipping container fallen from a container ship. He knows enough sea craft to avoid drowning for eight days, but it is a battle that he loses hour by hour. Fewer than five sentences are spoken in the flashback. The rest is just watching Redford doing whatever it takes and finding sometime ingenious solutions to problems cropping up. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Test pilot Chuck Yeager was asked what he did when he got into real trouble flying a plane. He said you do not panic. You just keep doing the next thing and the next thing and the next thing.
Roger Ebert once said that you could make a really fascinating film showing a craftsman just working and showing the audience how he does what he does.
There is a very good suspense film, Philip Noyce's DEAD CALM. It involves a psychopathic killer, but what makes the film interesting is a sequence with Sam Neill as an Australian naval officer trapped and abandoned on a sinking yacht. He goes step-by-step, saving the boat from--or at least forestalling--sinking. He does the next thing and the next thing and the next thing and we wordlessly follow what he is doing. That same idea is the basis of the film ALL IS LOST.
Robert Redford plays an unnamed yachtsman who mid-ocean, 1700 nautical miles from land, has a collision with a shipping container carrying tennis shoes. The story begins with him saying goodbye to all who knew him and then in flashback wordlessly tells the story of how he fights valiantly against the ocean to stay alive. This is a film of action and suspense with no guns and no villains but the sea and an inevitable death. It is interesting that ALL IS LOST is so suspenseful. The title is something of a spoiler saying that things are not going to go well for him. We know from it and the first scene that even the man, capable sea man as he is, will eventually give in to despair.
At one time Redford played a series of films that Redford pointed out were on a theme of American winners. He played one winner after another. These were films like THE CANDIDATE, THE STING, and THE NATURAL. In ALL IS LOST he is older, rugged but less callow, and seems to be doing penance as he loses one battle after another with the sea. Sometimes his loss is through a mistake or nature doing something unexpected to him. And nature has some expected threats like storms and sharks. Sometimes his failures because of his negligence, sometimes bad luck, and sometimes we do not know what causes some of his problems. The viewer has hope for him, but that film's title hangs heavily over the entire narrative. At times the viewer might question his strategy, such as why he does not use his sails while he can.
The film is written and directed by J. C. Chandor, who also wrote and directed MARGIN CALL two years ago. That film depends mostly on the dialog and very little on the visuals. This film goes to the other extreme. Chandor uses a score by Alex Ebert and uses it sparingly. Still, when the viewer does hear music it seems out of place. This film could have gotten along with no music at all. This is probably one of the best films of the year and certainly one of the tensest. I rate it a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2017038/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/all_is_lost_2013/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper