All Is Lost ★★★★½

I used to spend summers sailing with my uncle and cousin. Sometimes just a quick day-sail around the bay after my uncle got home from work, and before it got dark. Club races on the weekends. A few times a summer we’d go on a weekend long cruise; sometimes longer. Through all those summers I met and got to know quite a few sailors. One thing they all had in common; a passion for their sport; a love of the simple state of being at one with the sea. All quiet except for the wind through the stays, and the gentle cut of the water. Over the years I came to appreciate that special kind of peace.

To be a sailor is to be resourceful. To some extent sailing is always a test. Watching the water to judge the wind; constantly appraising the sky. Some take the test further by racing. Some further still by blue water cruising, others even further by making a crossing. I’ve met a handful of sailors over the years who’ve made a crossing. It takes a special kind of courage and sense of adventure, even if you cross as a group in a rally. Then there are the more adventurous two handing couples who go it alone. Even with a fully decked out state of the art yacht, a crossing can be punishing for a couple alone, especially when you run into weather ( which you inevitably do.) Then, finally, there are those who solo cross.

All Is Lost is more remarkable for what it doesn’t do, rather than what it does do. Aside from the opening scene, there’s nary a voiceover; but for a single f-bomb, not a single line of Our Guy talking to himself. For a screenplay to depend so heavily on set pieces because of the complete lack of dialogue there is a temptation to amplify those set pieces to the max. Director J.C. Chandor doesn’t lean on these tropes. The set pieces are quite realistic. Neither does he lean on the score. It stays at a respectful distance never crowding the scene. You would think, then, that the single solitary performer in this drama would have to give an over the top performance; one of harrowing bravery and emotional vigor. Not so. Robert Redford plays it close to the chest; like a sailor would.

In terms of its construction, All Is Lost should not be nearly as watchable as it is. Chandor combines all the elements in perfect measure, and keeps his audience tightly leashed. I was intrigued ….

….Except for all the stupid things Our Guy kept doing. First off, early in the film, after freeing himself he goes off heeling over on his holed side; further filling his cabin. What’s up with that? Ok, he’s now patched the hole. Resourcefulness; he’s a sailor. Now he spies a storm. Ok, you’re in the middle of the ocean, there are going to be storms. Ok, he’s getting ready … good; but wait, where’s your wet gear? Where’s your harness, but most importantly where’s your EPIRB? An EPIRB, or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. They’re a portable device that automatically sends a distress beacon with your coordinates by Satellite should it become submerged. They are de-facto equipment on blue water going craft, most having several. Ok, now the storm has hit. What does our guy do? Go below?? You have no power, thus no autohelm, and you go below in a storm?! Wait, you don’t know how to use a sextant? You only have 2 signal flares and one hand flare? Your lifeboat doesn’t have a radar reflector? You call yourself a blue water sailor?

As much as I enjoyed the film, I couldn’t help but be annoyed at such stupid mistakes. Didn’t they have a consultant?! Then, the next morning, it hit me. No, Our Guy wasn’t a blue water sailor; he was probably, at most, a weekend sailor that would scoot around the bay. Resourceful, but not ready for the open ocean. What’s he doing out here then? .. of course; the voiceover at the beginning .. he’s looking for redemption. Throwing himself on the mercy of the sea. Reminds me of Leonard Cohen.

"And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"

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