All is Lost Review

Posted: December 14, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

all-is-lost-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In 2011, writer/director J.C. Chandor made his feature film debut with a little film called Margin Call. The film earned respectable reviews and manages a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. I never got around to seeing Margin Call, mostly due to availability and eventually forgot about it. However Chandor has struck back with All is Lost, a film which has received even better reviews than Chandor’s freshman effort and teams him with seasoned veteran Robert Redford. With two highly regarded films under his belt, I thought it about time I finally check out this new director.

The film centers on an unnamed elderly man (Robert Redford) who is out at sea by himself. One morning he wakes up to water seeping onto the floor of his boat. In the night, his ship has collided with an abandoned shipping container. The man attends to the matter as professionally as possible, but soon finds circumstances keep piling on top of him, making his situation more and more dire and his future more and more hopeless.

Almost every bit of praise for All is Lost has been heaped on Robert Redford, and for the most part, it is well-deserved. Going in, I was suspicious that the critical praise was just a result of this being Redford’s most significant role in a long time. While there probably is some truth to that, the fact is Redford is quite good here. He’s the sole personality throughout the film and effectively holds everything together. It helps that he’s perfectly cast in the role of the unnamed sailor. He has the age to be believable as a veteran of the seas while also having the masculinity needed. Redford brings a tremendous dignity to the part, and really excels in the third act. It’s also worth noting that Redford says probably about ten sentences throughout the film and the fact that he can convey so much without dialogue is impressive.

Outside of lead performance, the rest of the filmmaking on display is solid as well, but not quite on Redford’s level. Chandor effectively demonstrates the feeling of being out at sea very effectively through the cinematography and does a good job making Redford’s boat looked lived in. The make-up team also does a great job showing Redford’s physical degradation as he survives on limited resources and the editing makes the journey feel long without dragging. That said, while the filmmaking on display is undeniably strong, it’s never really exceptional either. I frequently liked what Chandor and the other technical workers were doing, but I was never left in awe. Scenes of Redford’s boat being assaulted by nature should be really memorable set-pieces, but they never really are.

The lack of set-pieces can be partially explained by the film’s very realistic approach. In addition to being a survival film, All is Lost is in many ways a procedural depicting what happens when one is stranded at sea. Now I’ve never been stranded on a boat fighting for my life, but this portrayal seems pretty accurate. Everything Redford does seems logical and the professional attitude he carries himself with makes his actions even more fun to watch. As the situation worsens, Reford loses more and more resources, which makes his intelligent use of them even more satisfying to watch. Some audiences may find themselves bored by the realistic portrayal, but others will find it riveting as I did.

While the film works well as a survival film, the problem is that’s kind of all it works as. All is Lost is very straight-forward in its approach, to the point that nothing is known of its main character. The film never reveals why he’s out at sea and very little of his personality is revealed beyond a few basic traits. Because of this, it can be hard to really sympathise with the protagonist. Redford’s performance goes a long way to change this, but even it isn’t enough to make up for the lack of development. The film doesn’t really have any higher themes either. All of this would be mostly acceptable if the filmmaking was really exceptional, but it’s not on that level.

A lot of people have compared All is Lost to 2013’s other major survival film: Gravity. Both films depict an isolated protagonist trying to survive a series of predicaments in an open location. However Gravity had a more likable protagonist, meaningful themes, and mesmerizing filmmaking. That’s not to say All is Lost is bad because it’s not as good as Gravity, but the comparison does show what the former is lacking in. Still, All is Lost is a good film. The filmmaking may not be exceptional, but it is very good and the film takes some interesting choices. If nothing else, it’s worth seeing for Redford.


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