Robert Redford and the new movie "All is lost"

wjames - November 20, 2013

The movie is an interesting mix of having useful equipment, mixed preparation and perhaps critical mistakes. I would be interested in your opinions; these were my first thoughts:

  1. Crashing into the container – this took place in flat water and very light winds – more likely the sailboat would have bumped first, certainly not puncture a hole above its water line, through which water would then illogically gush.
  2. The movie showed some effects of being shot in that Mexican tank used for the Titanic movie – inconsistent waves for example.
  3. Attaching a sea anchor to the container likely would do nothing since by far most of the container was already below the water and there was very little surface wind drag.
  4. Deliberately crashing the bow into the container – very silly! Why not come gently alongside on the container’s lee and tie off with fenders?
  5. He went about everything so slowly – I might have hurried to put the hole on the lee side out of the water, stuffed the hole full of anything – mattresses, bedding, etc., and covered it on the outside lashing that storm sail tightly around the hull.
  6. Immediately move all electronics from the incoming seawater to a dry spot. He did indeed flush off the salt but seemingly later when it might have already dried.
  7. Start, crank if necessary, the engine to keep the batteries charged.
  8. Activate the bilge pumps – it’s inconceivable that the skipper did not have a proper crank for the manual bilge pump absolutely handy.
  9. Immediately bail with proper buckets (all boats have buckets!)
  10. Never hank on a storm jib during the storm, rather simply leave the boat to drift under the furled jib. Why not unfurl a few inches on the furling jib from the cockpit? It’s impossible for a single-hander to fight a loose sail in those winds, and he paid the inevitable price, being washed overboard.
  11. He should surely have had a dodger over the companionway to keep the heavy rain out of the cabin.
  12. Never remove the companionway boards during a heavy storm; rather clamber over one or more of them. Always snub the companionway cover tight during the storm. Miraculously when the boat turtled he did not lose his loose companionway boards. Lucky!
  13. When he was first washed overboard while hanking on the storm jib, the waves fortunately flattened allowing him to climb back aboard. The same thing when he righted the life-raft. This is unlikely to happen for me!
  14. On the second occasion he left the companionway open, the boat turned turtle, he was washed overboard, the boat righted, he went below through the open companionway and it was perfectly dry below!
  15. Evidently he had good electronics, some costing thousands, but no EPIRB which costs about $100. I need to get a good EPIRB!
  16. He tried to make a May-day (SOS) call (incorrectly); should he have tried a pan-pan call? Dunno.
  17. He did not energetically jury-rig his crippled boat and actively sail it towards the shipping lanes for help, but rather seemed to ease up. Come to think of it, the movie distinctly lacks numbers like distances.
  18. His electrics failed yet he still climbs the mast to reattach the VHF antenna. The cable was a knurled knob which needs a pliers, not an adjustable wrench – strange mistake for Robert Redford to have made!
  19. He used a neat system for climbing the mast, but the tail end of the long line could easily snag on the deck- I might have been inclined to bag the tail and keep it aloft with me.
  20. Very lucky to have been able to simply snip a single standing rigging stay to free the broken mast – my mast has eight stays and each would take time for me to sever. Might be better to lash the spars on deck for a potential later jury-rig. Also it's very dicey to board a boat half-full of water because the added weight tips the boat, bringing the stern down below water level and the boat quickly fills and sinks. 
  21. It seemed a spacious life-raft for a single handed sailor. The life-raft should have been stowed on deck.
  22. His solar still for drinking water was good. There would have been provided in the life-raft a better still.
  23. The big fire in the life-raft could have been the result of the deluded thinking of a desperate and irrational man, at the end of his tether.

Just my 2c worth - for more reasonable comments I need to see the movie again!  -Bill


JensenNR's picture

I agree with Bill James' observations – and could add more. For instance, Vicki and I both thought it was unrealistic to show Redford’s character pouring disinfecting fluid on a facial wound and putting on band-aids while chest-deep in water on a boat that was obviously sinking under him. Anyone in distress would have used the time for gathering more supplies.

But that scene added great tension in the movie.

Redford has rarely disappointed me as an actor, and he doesn’t disappoint me this time either. It’s a fine film that does its job of creating suspense in a fictional setting. I greatly enjoyed it, regardless of how disturbing or unbelievable the action unfolds.

There is no question that real people have successfully survived adversity at sea using scant resources, great tenacity, and common sense (i.e. Steve Callahan’s 79 days adrift in the Atlantic). However, depicting such experiences rarely make great movies, because dealing methodically with a dangerous situation does not have the same audience impact as showing one horrible calamity after the other.

So, “All Is Lost” takes a great deal of poetic license to create a riveting movie.. Films often call for the willing suspension of disbelief, but while this one may tax our disbelief more than most, it is just entertainment.

wjames's picture

I guess we sailors can all learn from others' experiences, certainly I can. On a big screen the movie is certainly impressive, and thought-provoking. I tried listing some "mistakes" to provoke discussion here. "Mistakes" listed include (a) those that are a deliberate part of the plot, perhaps to make the story interesting, and (b) perhaps a few minor filming flaws - I did not try to distinguish between them. The movie preamble says the movie is based on a true story, which of course would have been an entirely different set of circumstances (possibly the original container hit the boat surfing down a big wave - if the original story is available in a published book, it may be an interesting read.) Fun to pick holes in a movie, though, from a cinema armchair! But I do recommend seeing the movie, preferably on a big screen. Let me know off-line if necessary if you have comments on my list. Have a good winter...

Bill Rohde's picture

We saw the movie with several other offshore sailors. Everyone in our group came out with a list of "should had done's" and "that wasn't realistic's". But I think one also has to think through how well we would do in similar circumstances. For example, if I was alone in the middle of the Pacific, was probably already sleep deprived, and hit a container, how effective would I be at dealing with the emotional weight and sensory overload in a situation like that. I'd probably make many of the same mistakes (plus how many of us can truthfully say they've never done some obviously unsafe things like clip on to a lifeline, even for a minute or two, once or twice).

The other thing some people picked up on is that Robert Redford's character seemed to be living life on a shoestring. We've all see plenty of boats out there that are definitely not ready for serious passagemaking. It appears he had dropped out of "society" and left ... and then paid the consequences with a poorly prepared boat and similarly poor personal preparation.

In one of the Caribbean 1500's I did we came across a HUGE mooring buoy for an ocean freighter floating in the open ocean about 500 miles from land. I think was about the size of a LARGE farm LP tank! We saw it in daylight, but at night we most definitely could have hit it. Stuff like that can and does happen.

Is the movie technically perfect? ... No, not by a long shot ... but it still offered much to think about - particularly as to how I might respond to a crisis like that if totally alone and sleep-deprived. I thought it was a great movie (as did the other 9 sailors that saw it with us ... most of them veterans of long offshore passages including several trans-Atlantics).