Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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All Is Lost

Film #476

THE PLOT

After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.

Year 3, Film #26

THE GOOD: One man, his boat, the open ocean. Disaster strikes. Multiple times. This, in essence, is All Is Lost.

This film has to be the epitome of a simplistic, or what I call restrictive, film. Films like Life of Pi (obvious similarities), Panic Room, and 12 Angry Men are all restrictive in terms of locations, people, and props. An easy way to think of it is the hypothetical problem you’re always asked as kids — if you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you bring with you? I find these types of films to be some of the most entertaining because most often, you truly don’t know what’s going to happen next.

All Is Lost, by its very nature, has to be creative. There’s only so many things that Our Man (Robert Redford) has to work with to repair his sinking boat stranded in the middle of the ocean. Not only that, but he has time restrictions, food restrictions, and energy restrictions as well. It’s an underdog story right from the get-go and throughout the whole film you are rooting for Our Man to persevere and get rescued and each time he’s confronted with another storm or some turn of bad luck, all you can think to yourself is, “Not again. Come on, give this guy a break!”

What makes this film so extraordinary and unlike some of the other “restrictive” films I mentioned is that it does with even less. All the films I mentioned above have more than one cast member (Robert Redford is the only person in this film; I don’t think there’s even pictures of other people) and some amount of dialogue (there’s a few spoken lines in All Is Lost but no conversations, just cries for help). Despite all these limitations, the film still keeps things interesting and constantly moving forward. There are no lulls or areas where you can drift off (pardon the pun) and not pay attention. Even moments where Our Man is hoisting a sail, pumping water out of the boat, or mixing some form of glue demand your full attention because each moment is a life or death situation for this guy. He flirts with death constantly whether it’s being flung off the boat during a storm hanging on for dear life by a rope or hitting his head against a pole and losing consciousness during a crucial time.

That a film like Life of Pi was able to be so entertaining with just a young boy and a lion stranded on a life boat or 12 Angry Men never missed a beat even though it’s just twelve jurors talking over a case is amazing. But in both of those cases you can see human relationships form and change. For Pi, he has the lion to keep him company and keep him active. For Juror #8, he has eleven other people he has to convince to rethink their position. In All Is Lost, there’s just Our Man. All we get are visuals and sounds of water, nature, and the occasional grunt or “Help!”. And the fact that the film is able to carry on like any other film without all the benefits is phenomenal.

THE BAD: My only complains about this film have to do with the boating aspects. I’ve never been on a sailboat before so I don’t have the first clue about how to operate one. I’ve also never been on the open ocean alone and had to worry about things like navigation or survival. So maybe it’s just my lack of knowledge in this area, or maybe the issues I have are actual problems.

The biggest thing for me isn’t that the film seems unrealistic — on the contrary, the film appears to have gone to great lengths to make it look as realistic as possible — but that the events that occur seem unlikely. How many times has a shipping container been dropped in the ocean, not retrieved, and while floating, rams into a passing boat causing it to fill with water? Why during a storm would you not only keep sails up, but put additional ones up too? (This one was answered in the plot summary on Wikipedia. Apparently there’s a thing called a storm jib so you can still maneuver the boat). What are the odds of not only seeing two shipping barges, but then being passed by them — literally feet away — without being noticed, even with flares?

Again, some of these might have easy answers (like the storm jib one) or turn out to be quite frequent occurrences on the open ocean. For having no knowledge though (and perhaps be given false assumptions by a film like Life of Pi where he was able to survive for over 100 days in a much smaller vessel), All Is Lost raises some questions to the accuracy of the events depicted. Not so much or so frequent as to disrupt the enjoyment of the film, but scattered enough to keep a feeling of doubt in the back of your mind.

THE TAKEAWAY: All Is Lost has all the drama, suspense, thrills, and emotions that you might expect in any other great film, but it does it all with only one character, one location, and no dialogue. To deliver the same level of excitement while using almost nothing, is absolutely astonishing and will blow you out of the water.

THE RATING: 4 out of 5