Because Robert Redford is such an iconic actor and director, it’s hard to find fault with any of his work. I could watch A River Runs Through It, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and so many more of his films over and over again. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about Redford’s newest film, All is Lost, but it left me thinking more about what wasn’t in it, than what was.
The movie starts with a man being tossed about in a small life boat in very rough seas and trying to find something to write a message on. It’s clear he’s out of options for surviving and believes he will not make it. That’s the little we know about this man throughout the film.
The story then backtracks to some days earlier when he was on a larger sail boat all alone. As stormy weather descends on “wherever he is,” he slowly begins to readjust things on the boat.
Later he awakes to the gushing sound of water running in through a hole in the boat and ruining many of his belongings. Long minutes tick by as we watch him make a concoction to repair the hole. Remember that old saying about watching paint dry? That’s what the film felt like to me, just dull moments passing by.
This man seems to have no emotion and never shows that he knows what he’s doing. Even when he’s climbing the huge mast to readjust his sails and make a repair, the camera is square on his face, and his expression appears hopeless as if he’s thinking if I can only move up a few more inches I might make it. In fact, there are obvious things I -- not even an experienced boater -- would have checked or made happen before moving silly things around or leaving them on the boat as it was sinking. And he had plenty of time to do this.
Right before the heart of the storm descends, the man grabs his radio, saying over and over, “This is the Virginia Jean with an SOS call, over.” Then it hits, turns his boat into a carnival ride, and he tumbles inside, gets hurt and realizes he’s now lost his radio and navigation system.
He drags out the small life boat -- and as the weather clears he must act fast to get what he can before the boat sinks. Quickly, he’s sitting in the raft watching his beloved boat sink. In the days that follow, he does everything to survive. He tries to catch a fish, to keep himself out of the sun and to find a way of making fresh water. I felt at times like I was watching a Boy Scout video on how to survive in the water alone.
When the man sees a huge boat sailing by one evening, he yells and waves but no one sees or hears him. It’s a rare moment that shows he’s frustrated and frightened.
I can’t say much about J. C. Chandor’s screenplay or direction. It’s really not entertaining when things continue to go wrong throughout the film, and it’s not hard to guess -- thanks to the title – that it probably won’t turn out well. There are probably less than 10 words in the entire film, so with little emotion from the man, what is there to identify with or care about?
Tom Hanks pulled off his solo character film in Cast Away because he made the volleyball a character (Mr. Wilson) and also had up-and-down moments with hope and despair.
We know Redford is a fine actor, but when he’s moving through time with little expression, emotion or words -- and going through a step-by-step track of this might work but then it doesn’t -- it was hard for me to find an emotional attachment to his performance here.
There were times in All Is Lost when I wanted to yell out “Get this” or “Grab that.” It seemed to me over and over that the man was very inexperienced with this boat – so why was he in the middle of nowhere all alone.
The worst thing for any critic to admit about a film is never thinking about it after leaving the theater. In my case, the only thought crossing my mind about All Is Lost is an occasional “Why?”
(Released by Roadside Pictures and rated "PG-13" for brief strong language.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.