All is lost

ALL IS LOST. Starring:: Robert Redford. Directed by J. C. Chandor. Rated M (Infrequent coarse language). 106 min.

This American drama is about a man "lost" at sea. It practically has no dialogue, and Robert Redford, as an unnamed character, is the only person in it, and Redford narrates the movie. In the entire film there are only a few spoken lines.

The movie won the Best Actor award for Redford from the New York Film Critics Circle, and won Best Original Score in the 2014 Golden Globe Awards. It is a film about a human being's desperate struggle to survive at sea, and the movie's action takes place in just 8 or 9 days.

Redford wakes up one night somewhere in the Indian Ocean, 1700 miles from the Straits of Sumatra, and suddenly becomes aware that his 39-foot schooner, the "Virginia Jean", is taking water. His yacht has collided during the night with a shipping container carrying children's shoes. The container was floating loose on the water, and his ship has a gaping hole in its hull. He tries to mend the hole unsuccessfully, and struggles with his ship's navigational communication system, which fails. An approaching storm descends on his ship, snaps its mast and capsizes the yacht, forcing him into a life-raft. And he has only limited food to survive.

Two ships pass him by, and he drifts back in the open ocean outside its shipping lanes. After giving up on the chance of being rescued, he writes a letter, puts it into a bottle and throws it overboard. Shortly afterwards, he sees something in the distance and lights a fire to be seen. Swimming away from his life-boat which is blazing on the water, the film ends with an outstretched hand reaching towards him.

This is a simple film with an uncomplicated plot-line that demands a great deal of Redford, both physically and emotionally, and it is directed by J. C. Chandor, who shows excellent understanding of what creates great tension in a movie. Everything that could mean possible survival goes wrong, and Redford at 77 years is outstanding in his response to Chandor's controlled and taut direction. The tension of the movie comes very much from Redford's wordless reaction to the detail of events that occur as the film progresses.

The film 's photography captures the tension wonderfully. Fish glide gracefully beneath the water, while storms churn up the ocean. The viewer is made to feel trapped in the cabin of the yacht while the ocean erupts around it, and the wind howls outside. It is a tale of unfolding peril at sea. The fact that the film has little narrative and virtually no dialogue throws the dramatic focus almost entirely onto Redford. His performance straddles the fine line that exists between life and death, and his acting is both convincing and powerful. We are made to experience his complete isolation, as well as his trauma.

We learn very little about the man on the yacht. We are not told who he is, or where he has come from, and the brief glimpses of his wedding-ring suggests something very meaningful has happened in his life. Also, we learn something from the letter that he throws overboard which says "I will miss you - I'm sorry"; it is obviously written to people he loves. There are sparse hints in the narrative and dialogue, but they reveal precious little. What defines this man's life is the crisis that surrounds him. There is almost total ambiguity about the person trying to survive and the ambiguity paradoxically reinforces the minimalist nature of the film and the tension of the movie that Chandor establishes so intensely.

This is a highly focused movie that is not a film to learn how to be safe while sailing out on the Ocean. However, it is a film to learn about the meaning of human resilience. The yacht may not be equipped properly for its voyage, but when things go wrong, one can only marvel at the will and determination of a single human being's utter resolve to stay alive and survive.

This is a highly enjoyable, well-made movie that teaches important lessons about life, and its action is nearly always secondary to the human and emotional issues at stake. It is a very compelling and absorbing film about physical and spiritual survival.

Peter W Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Universal Pictures

Released 6th. March, 2014

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