I can be a bit snarky about Robert Redford. It’s a long-term reaction to old Mrs Jack’s adoration of his beauty back in the day. That said, I’m an honest hypocrite and fully accept that she didn’t enjoy my admiration of, say, Michelle Pfeiffer and her beautiful snippiness. And were my beloved still here, I imagine she’s be watching Pfeiffer’s later-life edgy wives and angry witches with some satisfaction.
And so to this water-bound outing for Redford, put on for us all by Sailor Sam as an apology for one anecdote too many about warring at sea. Redford is in a small, modern boat in the middle of nowhere. He wakes up to discover water pouring in a hole made by one of those big metal containers full of trainers. He has a voiceover – almost the last thing said in the film – apologising to his family for what life around him has meant. My first thought, and perhaps yours too, is that this story of an old man, alone, pained, stoic and methodical, reflects old age. We amble on, here in the home, eating, hobbling, sleeping and not-quite hoping, for we know All is Lost.
Old Jack here admits it: Redford is terrific in this film. He is the sailor, unreadable and efficient, dealing with a fate that feels inevitable from the first holing. He repairs the boat over the first half hour, keeping the ship at an angle, dragging seconds of incoherent life out of his radio, gluing gauze over the hole until it can hold off a storm. But it never feels like a long-term fix.
And life does what it does: storms come, vicious things that upend the boat, tossing Redford around and around, from floor to ceiling. His struggles to live: getting food, getting survival kits from under water, bilge pump failed so emptying the boat by hand, all add up to a gauntlet well-run.
And throughout, this craggy once-pretty man, says nothing. We were none the wiser about his nature, life, personality or passions at the end of the film than at the beginning. Although Sailor Sam thought he had the fortitude of his kind and that was all we needed to know. Then he listed the sailing mistakes so we knocked him out.
All is Lost is a linear thing, dragging us through the days that lead to the introductory voiceover and a letter – probably the same thing – in a bottle. It’s never quite clear whether Redford is being fatalistic or fighting for the value of his life. This may all just be the standard pattern we have in old age: plodding on, powerful machines despite our frailty, fixing our boats, jumping in our life rafts, getting tossed and turned in both and holding out on despair until the sun burns us dry and we can only scream “fuck!!!” at the heavens.
All this happens and Redford carries it single-handed, in silence, with neither pity nor accessibility for two solid hours. And they fly by.
Heartily recommended: probably not the treatise on old age that I took it to be, All is Lost is terrific. Redford gives a great, properly modern and senior performance. I would have watched this with old Mrs Jack and smiled as she fell in love with him all over again.
I miss her and the chance to be grumpy about her move star and the cracking work he’s done here.