Film Review: All is Lost
This film crept up on me, coming from nowhere it has largely relied on positive reviews posted on the internet. I began to read pieces describing a film that delivered nothing more than the story of only one man and his desperate attempt at survival. No big effects, no supporting cast, and most intriguingly, no script. It has a screenplay that is only 35 pages long (most are expected to be 120 plus. One page for every minute of screen time or dialogue).
I was instantly hooked, it appeared to be my ideal film, based on fact dealing with the strongest human emotion; survival. Unfortunately the only sinking feeling during the movie was my own.
The story is very simple, after a collision with a shipping container at sea, a sailor finds himself in a life and death struggle against the elements, alone and exposed in the middle of the Indian Ocean. This is all we are given. The basic facts usually presented in the first 15 minutes of a film never appear. We never know the sailors name, what he’s doing in the middle of the Ocean, where he’s going, where he’s been or who he’s left behind.
I believe this was done to make the experience more realistic, to put us in the situation, on the boat with this sailor and view it as if a voyeur. Maybe it was to make us invest in the film more, the idea was for us as the audience to create our own story for this man, relate him and his journey to our own personal experiences thereby becoming more invested in his attempt for survival. I don’t consider myself a ‘Lazy Audience Member’, I’m not looking for the film to constantly explain the thoughts and feelings of its characters, make clear its direction or assault me with CGI or 3D. I’m prepared to work things out for myself, but with so little, in fact nothing to go on, I found it very difficult to care, never mind relate to the sailor’s character. His situation may be dire, and his actions commendable, but I was never willing him on, never elated when something went his way or frustrated when it didn’t. Because of that, the director (J.C Chandor) failed to put me on the boat with the sailor. I was just as I was, sat in a movie theatre watching a film.
Now you may think that because of the lack of script, it must have been a visual feast. Well, you thought wrong. A lot of films recently have been very dialogue light, The Artist, Life of Pi, Gravity to name a few, but what they lacked in verbal storytelling they made up for visually. I wanted to see more. The director showed us glimpses of the sea in the background, the churning high waves, the streak of foam, the light above the surface of the water but relied heavily on close ups of the sailor and interior shots inside the boat. Again, I can only suggest this was done in an attempt to put us in the action. I wanted to see the storm, feel its ferocity, be mesmerized by the boat from afar being violently crushed against the waves, appreciate how vast and isolated he was, but it never materialised. This is also why I failed to connect to the sailor, I could never appreciate his situation, never understand the enormity of his accomplishments, as far as I was concerned he was just going through the motions. I won’t spoil this film’s ending and whether the sailor survives, but the final few minutes were disappointing. The film went from a realistic portrayal to a Hollywood cliché in a matter of moments, and couldn’t have been more predictable if they tried. After enduring this journey for the previous 1 hour and 50 minutes, expecting the ending to honour everything this sailor went through, I felt cheated and even a little angry. It wasn’t how it ended, it was how it was portrayed.
The only redeeming quality of the film is Robert Redford’s brilliance. At 77 years old, he delivers such an extraordinary performance, it makes you beg the question “Why is Hollywood so youth obsessed?”. In the hands of a less experienced actor, the character of the sailor would have been as forgettable as the other aspects of the film. This was a physically demanding film, and even though the technical side of the sailing has been strongly criticized, Redford appeared as a believable sailor and reacted naturally to the events that were taking place.
The film’s biggest problem is instead of connecting with its audience, it isolated us and shut us out. Left us with more questions than answers.
Usually I agree with the old saying “Less Is More”, but not this time. I really felt we had been left high and dry.