Robert Redford plays a shipwreck victim in the one-man film All Is Lost
I was leaving a preview screening of All Is Lost when a disappointed film buff commented that it was no Life of Pi. That’s for sure. There’s no digital tiger and no otherworldly 3-D photography. For 99 percent of the film, there’s not even any dialogue. There’s simply a man struggling to survive after his sail-powered yacht is damaged in a mid-sea collision. Fortunately, that man is played by Robert Redford. If anyone of less stature had starred as the unnamed shipwreck victim, the film would be far less watchable. Not only is he compelling in a role that alternates between grunts and tense silences, but his age and familiarity add depths of meaning to what is otherwise a deliberately paced adventure. In the first scene, we hear the man’s voice apparently reading from a journal of his trip while the man himself is seen floating in the ocean. “I think that you will all agree that I tried…” he says. Is this Redford himself talking, we wonder. Is he praising himself for founding the Sundance Film Festival? Is he apologizing for The Company You Keep? But as the flick flashes back to explain how he got in this predicament, the man stops talking about himself—or anything else for that matter, as the only other word he utters is a sudden and well-justified expletive. We’re then forced to come up with our own interpretation of who he is and what his life-or-death struggle means. Writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) has concocted a spare survival tale that stands on its own sea legs. But he also makes it very easy to read political and economic meaning into it all. The man’s yacht is damaged when it collides with a huge shipping container—the kind that’s filled with mass-produced goods and loaded onto ships for transport to foreign ports. Could it be that the man represents the average American worker or businessman whose job is threatened by cheap overseas labor? The man’s age offers another source of potential meaning, as he appears to be somewhere in the neighborhood of Redford’s 70-something. (The actor turned 77 in August.) Though the man is hale for his age, and though he benefits from a lifetime’s worth of practical knowledge, it’s clear that the many physical challenges he faces would be easier for a younger man. That suggests that the film is a metaphor for the aging process we all must take on. This musing about symbolism is not meant to suggest that All Is Lost is a pretentious metaphor. On the surface, it’s a harrowing portrait of a man reacting to a series of mishaps by summoning up every ounce of strength and know-how he possesses. Perhaps the main complaint one can make about the film is that its deliberate pace will try some viewers’ patience. Yet it’s that very pace that allows, if not encourages, us to delve below the surface. There, along with the circling sharks, we can find loads of reasons to put ourselves in the unknown man’s water-logged shoes. Rating: 3-1/2 stars out of 5 CUTLINE: