REVIEW: “All is Lost”

ALL POSTERPerhaps not since “Cast Away” has a movie been more concentrated on a single performance than “All is Lost”. And it’s interesting that this film also features survival elements involving the sea. But unlike “Cast Away” there is no supporting cast. There is no interaction between characters. There is only 77-year old Robert Redford in what be the most physically demanding role of his long career.

The film opens with an unnamed man reciting what sounds like a short goodbye note. Moving back eight days, we see the man is awoken when his yacht collides with a cargo container in the middle of the Indian Ocean. With a hole in the hull and water gushing into his cabin, the man immediately tries to fix the problem. This launches our time with this character as he faces one challenge after another for the next eight days – challenges brought on by the sea and the elements.

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“All is Lost” is unique in that we get no backstory whatsoever. We are never told who this man is or why he is so far out at sea by himself. We do glean small fragments of information throughout the film. For example the opening narration leads you to believe there is a family he has left behind. We also get scenes that show a wedding band on his finger. Could he still be married? Could his wife have recently died? Writer and director J.C. Chandor doesn’t take us by the hand and spell everything out for us. His film allows us to put these pieces together in our minds and come up with our own solutions.

Chandor’s first film was 2011’s ultra-talky “Margin Call”. This movie couldn’t be more different. Aside from the short opening narration, Redford has only three lines of dialogue (if you can call them that) in the entire movie. The bulk of his performance is physical and through expression. It’s truly marvelous work. Unlike most, I have always been a bit mixed when it comes to Redford’s movies. There’s no apprehension here. Redford is great. He gives an ‘every man’ performance without an ounce of his once prominent ‘golden boy’ artifice. He tells us so much through a gesture or an action. It’s a remarkably understated performance that doesn’t rely on big showy scenes or spotlights.

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Now we do get some of the familiar plot developments – shark attacks, punishing storms, depleted supplies, etc. Yet despite that the film feels remarkably fresh and invigorating. Perhaps it’s the connection we have with Redford’s character. Maybe it’s the circumstances which we are thrown into. I was wrapped up in all of it and even though some of the plot devices were conventional, there is still an undeniable attraction to this ‘man versus sea’ tale.

Hats off to J.C. Chandor for creating a small but gripping picture that may embrace familiar devices but that brilliantly carves its own path. With only a man, a boat, and the vast sea Chandor shows his versatility as a filmmaker by embracing the confines of his environment and making a movie that feels grander than it may be. But to be honest, I love it’s simplicity. I love it’s focus. And I love the performance from Redford. “All is Lost” may not work for everyone, but it sure worked for me.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

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26 thoughts on “REVIEW: “All is Lost”

  1. Good review Keith. It’s a surprise to see that Redford, even at his age, can still put in a physically-demanding, truly brutal performance that asks him to do and/or perform many things, but to actually have him deliver on all of them, and then some.

  2. Solid work Keith, and great to see this movie engaged you. I actually wound up feeling quite repelled by the lack of dialogue and a sense of who this man is/was. But for all the great points you make here I do have to consider Redford’s performance brilliant for how limited this script was! A very interesting concept, that’s for sure

    • Thanks man! I can see where some would have issues with the film’s approach. I thought it was a bold choice that let the audience full in the blanks. And as you said, Redford is great here. What a performance at 77 years of age!

  3. Excellent review, Keith. I agree, for the most part. Redford’s perofrmance is amazing, as was the decision to cast him in the first place. Plus, Chandor does some tremendous work making the ocean seem scary.

    I think the fact that we never know Our Guy prevents us from really connecting with him, but I still think this a very good film.

    • Thanks so much. Always appreciate your comments.

      Normally I feel the way you do about backstory. But here it seemed to work really well for me. I like the slight hints we get about him and I appreciate being left to fill in the blanks. I really got the sense that this was a worn down and depressed man. He clearly had some baggage and I guess that was enough for me to connect with him.

  4. When I first saw the trailer I thought, ‘Is this Life of Pi but without the tiger?’ Glad to hear you like this one Keith, I definitely will check this out as I quite like Redford. WOW, Chandor’s first film was Margin Call? That is quite an amazing departure, he’s a pretty versatile director!

    • Versatile indeed. I actually liked this better than “Life of Pi”. I certainly doesn’t have the CGI and special effects power of Pi but I was so caught up in it. It would have made a great push for a Top 10 of 2013 spot (if I hadn’t already put it out).

  5. Great review! I’m not a big fan of those alone at the sea film, but I’m curious about Redford’s performance so I’ll probably check it out soon.

  6. Personally I really did not like it. It bored me a lot and at the end of the movie the audience I saw it with (during a festival with quality movies, so the audience was used to different type of films) they started laughing. Well made, but did not manage to keep me interested.

    • I can’t imagine anyone laughing at this picture. That’s such a strange reaction to me. I was glued to the screen throughout. Even though it has the standard man-versus-sea elements, I still found it fascinating.

      • Well, I had a hard time sitting through it. In my review of it I wrote down that when Redford screamed FUCK! that was exactly my feeling having to wait for the movie to end. Not a fan and I kind of understood that laughter as the ending was a bit ridiculous….why did that have to happen?

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