Deep into a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, an unnamed man (Redford) wakes to find his 39-foot yacht taking on water after a collision with a shipping container left floating on the high seas. With his navigation equipment and radio disabled, the man sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. Despite his success in patching the breached hull, his mariner's intuition and a strength that belies his age, the man barely survives the tempest.
Using only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his progress, he is forced to rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane in hopes of hailing a passing vessel. But with the sun unrelenting, sharks circling and his meager supplies dwindling, the ever-resourceful sailor soon finds himself staring his mortality in the face.
The relationship between man and nature makes for such continually compelling subject matter because no matter how much humankind believes it can shape the natural world to its will, nature is quick to fire off a response demonstrating how that just is not so. These stories are also striking because they are, in a sense, the great equalizer: No matter how rich, powerful, strong, or attractive an individual may be, he or she is essentially the same as everyone else when faced with realization that they are powerless against nature.
Writer-director J.C. Chandor ('Margin Call') has composed a gripping adventure-film, which takes the idea of one man's survival against impossible odds and pushes it quite literally into the realm of simple procedure. And yet, to call anything in 'All is Lost' simple, is to be insultingly reductive of a film that takes the notion of survival and shapes it into a compelling examination about one man's relationship with mortality, as well as the relationship humankind has with nature, which, in this case, is seen as dominant and in control. It is the dramatization of a harrowing experience of one man lost as sea, and yet, by presenting that experience as the extent of what we know about the character and his situation, the events in the film are elevated into what can only be described as something far more moving and elemental – practically spiritual – and therefore far more significant because of that fact.
In the film, Robert Redford is credited only as Our Man. His name is never spoken, and he never speaks directly to anyone, or the audience. In fact, one of the few times he actually does speak in is during the opening voice-over, wherein Our Man writes a letter to what we can only assume will be the people who will survive him; it is not a letter filled with much hope, but rather one recognizing his failures as man, while at the same time understanding the virtue of having tried his best to be a better human being during his time on this planet. It's a powerful introduction for Our Man, who becomes an archetype by virtue of being the only character in the film, being pitted against the overwhelming power and fury of nature, and, of course, by being Robert Redford.
Like the dearth of information on Our Man, 'All is Lost' is equally (some might say mercifully) light on his backstory, including the circumstances that find him "1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits" on a sailboat with a hole in its side, after colliding with an errant shipping container full of sneakers. Following that collision, Our Man is left without a radio and several other electrical functions aboard his vessel, the Virginia Jean. Making matters worse, a terrible storm further cripples his boat, and soon his potentially disastrous situation turns into a brilliantly told battle for survival.
There is something significant in having an iconic presence like Redford take up every frame of this film that so ardently illustrates such affecting themes as mortality and the irrelevance one must feel when surrounded by thousands of miles pitiless ocean, seemingly hell-bent on dragging him under. Unsurprisingly, Redford is outstanding in his performance. And yet, Our Man's insignificance extends past the uncaring sea and even to his fellow man, who despite his pleas for help cannot see him for all their enormous vessels lined with shipping containers. That lack of visibility, sense of isolation, and unmanageable feeling of an irresistible force demanding to drag you into the inky blackness below, are almost enough to make one wonder whether or not 'All is Lost' could also be metaphor for depression.
The strength of the film, though, comes from the swiftness of its narrative, and the experience of its single protagonist. Because the focus is solely on Our Man, his experience becomes one that is shared with the audience; they participate in every aspect of his survival because Chandor wisely chooses to eliminate the noise of anything else. Still, tiny details permeate the film, like a child's shoe floating in water rushing into Our Man's boat while he's sound asleep, or his navigational tools being tucked away on a sinking boat, still in the box they were presumably shipped in. Because Chandor has chosen to give his audience the bare minimum of (ostensibly unnecessary) information, everything becomes a part of the overall experience. And it's the experience of Our Man that becomes all we can hope to, and, in this context, honestly need know about him.
By limiting what is known to what is experienced, 'All is Lost' is given a tightness and efficiency to its story that takes on a practical quality; it is all about the very specific "how" of this man's survival. There is little of the "what and "who"; slightly more of the "when" and "where"; and absolutely none of the "why" afforded the audience in Chandor's script. What's remarkable, then, is how the scarcity of information – which would be seen as a negative in almost any other film – turns into one of the film's most powerful components. What we know about Redford's character is given to us through his survival. He is at a point in his life where he has acquired the skill set to survive at sea. Through this, Chandor seems to be saying that the most valuable form of knowledge is gained through experience, or that experience is the only true way to know anything – a fitting statement to make on a film that is itself quite an experience.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'All is Lost' comes from Lionsgate as a single 50GB Blu-ray disc + digital Ultraviolet download. The disc comes in the standard keepcase with a cardboard outer sleeve. There are a handful of previews prior to the top menu – most of which are for films that have already been released, such as Chandor's own 'Margin Call' – but they can be skipped.
The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer does a fantastic job with things like fine detail, texture and color. There are countless moments in the film where close-ups of Redford's face and hands reveal a tremendous amount of fine lines and details that one would expect from a high definition transfer. Skintones are accurate and lifelike throughout the picture, and there are always well defined edges present – even during the chaotic story sequences – which help augment the clarity of the image.
Color is quite good throughout, as Chandor and is cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco, take a straightforward route and eschew any filter to make it seem more like Our Man is actually stranded out in the ocean. Contrast is high for the most part; sunlight tends to look bright and warm, rather than wash the image out, and generally blacks are full bodied. There are a few instances where crush is present in the background, and a few scenes where banding and poor delineation mar an otherwise terrific image. Thankfully, these are brief instances and while they are certainly noticeable, they don't necessarily derail the entire image.
Being a film with very little dialogue, sound design is incredibly important and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix has seemingly been primed to make the most of every single sound effect the film has to offer. In terms of generating a truly immersive experience, the mix here is fantastic in its depth and clarity. Early bits of dialogue are delivered through the center channel, but after that most of the larger sounds emanates through the front right and left speakers, tasking the rear channels with generating a sense of atmosphere. In this case, every creak of the boat, the omnipresent sound of water lapping at its sides, and the clatter of supplies or swinging doors all become an intrinsic part of the film itself – the manner in which it communicates aurally, if you will.
LFE is strong, particularly during the storm sequences, which produce a constant low rumble that is quite impressive. Mostly, though, the sound benefits from accurate imaging and directionality, and a fantastic sense of balance, which incorporates the score in such a way that it remains effective, but unobtrusive. This is a fantastic sound mix that delivers exactly the experience 'All is Lost' needed to be an effective film.
If there was any complaint, it would be that the filmmaking itself could feel rougher, less refined. Sometimes the slickness of the production undermines the efficacy of the story, and makes the battle of man vs. nature feel like man has already been crowned the victor. Still, 'All is Lost' is exciting, viscerally satisfying entertainment with a poignant story of one man's survival at its core that is honestly quite captivating. Robert Redford gives an outstanding performance and proves he is more than capable of holding the audience's attention as the sole character in a film for 106 minutes. This disc also features a nice image and great sound, along with a host of extras that make this highly recommended.