Movies without dialogue (or with minimal dialogue, for that matter) are a rare breed. To pull it off effectively, you need strong, charismatic actors who are able to engage the audience with nothing more than their body language. Tom Hanks pulled it off masterfully in Cast Away, as did Suraj Sharma in Life of Pi. Both actors carefully embedded their performances with subtle nuances that allowed us to know what they were feeling, what they were thinking, without saying a word. In the new film, All Is Lost, Robert Redford takes command of his stage and draws us in with the magnetic portrayal of a man fighting nature’s unforgiving wrath (as well as his own hidden demons).
And he does it without any help whatsoever. Tom Hanks was partnered up with a volleyball named Wilson, for whom he could interact with to keep him sane while fighting to get off the island. A tiger gave us something to fear, respect and honor as Pi’s only friend during his tumultuous affairs. In All Is Lost, Redford literally has only himself. He has nothing to look to for guidance, nothing to find solace in but his own mind, which makes his journey even more tortuous. By doing this, writer and director, J.C. Chandor, forces Redford’s character, known only as “Our Man,” to stay trapped within his own mind. For him to make this movie even the slightest bit compelling, he needed an actor with the chops to draw us in, and Redford fits that bill marvelously.
Redford portrays “Our Man” as a weary, lost traveler. Everything we need to know about who this man is (and was) is presented through what he is capable of handling. We know early on that he enjoys sailing, as evidenced by his knowledge of the operations necessary to sail the open seas. He may also have a background in construction, as he is very good with his hands. After his boat is hit by a wayward shipping container and begins filling the inner cabin with water (thus shorting out all of his electrical equipment), “Our Man” is able to craft a patch for the hole in his boat, MacGyver a make-shift water pump to extract the water, and attempt to fix his radio.
But more importantly, we learn about who he is as a man. At no point during this unexpected mishap does “Our Man” ever panic. He is cool and collected, juxtaposing him from the wrath and chaos of the nemesis he will have to fight later. He takes his time to think about what he has to work with and what he can do to fix it, with an attitude so serene, it’s as if he’s dealt with it before. That peaceful quality shows us that this is a man that doesn’t get scared easily, keeps his anger and frustration in check, but is missing something—or, more to the point, searching for something. He is a humble, yet hurting.
One way we know this is because of the short monologue that opens the film in which “Our Man” apologizes profusely to an unknown someone. He did something that he truly regrets in his past and might just be the reason he has chosen to sail the rough seas of the Indian Ocean alone. He is most likely trying to escape something that we never fully understand. And that, unfortunately, is where the main problem with the movie lies—why should we care?
All of the visual eye candy and realism the film embodies can’t replace the connection we need to bond with “Our Man.” The heart of the story revolves around the deep struggle to fight through everything—the past, the present and the future—to survive. Everything in the film represents a piece of “Our Man,” yet there is a disconnect that occurs.
Characters in survival stories such as these are meant to learn something about who they are through the experience, pushing them to grow as humans and become someone richer—more in sync with the spirit, in a way. Both Cast Away and Life of Pi (not to belabor the comparisons) were both book-ended with what happens before and after the main characters’ journey’s. It gives us a glimpse into who they were before and who they are after their life-altering circumstances. All Is Lost, on the other hand, takes place over the course of eight days, beginning at the point when “Our Man”‘s boat is hit with the shipping crate. At no time do we ever see where he came from or what he needs to get back to, thus his growth as a character is limited. The lessons that this desperate, deeply affecting man learns about himself drown among the waves of the storm, causing me to wonder why any of it mattered.
I do feel for “Our Man” because of Redford’s ability to identify with his struggle, and the fight to keep from giving up. Over the course of the film, “Our Man” goes from a strong, capable sailor to an exhausted, weary mess as his mind and body grow more fatigued with each new obstacle. It makes me wonder how much I would have been able to handle, and how far I could have gone as an individual in the same set of circumstances. And perhaps, maybe, that is exactly what the film was meant to be: a parable for who we are and what we would be capable of. But is that enough?
Everyone, I believe, will have a different answer to that question. For me, though, I needed that extra emotional layer in order to truly connect to this man and his desire to remain calm in the heart of the storm.
My Grade: B+
Next week, new movies include Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Delivery Man. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.