All Is Lost Reviews
In the Indian Ocean, a man (Robert Redford) wakes up on his yacht to find that a shipping container, that has been left adrift in the seas, has collided with him. It's ripped a hole in his hull and he's quickly taking in water. He manages to patch it up but a violent storm brings yet more problems and soon, time is running out for him.
As the film opens we are told that it is 1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra straits. That's about all we get in determining where our protagonist is. He's never actually named either - referred only as 'Our Man' in the end credits - so we don't know who he is or why he's there, other than some brief voiceover dialogue informing us that he's sorry for something. Again, we don't know what he's done or who he's apologising to - possibly his family. Either way, he's alone on his yacht and we don't know where he's heading to. That's about as much information as we are given and it doesn't get any clearer. It's this very ambiguity that sets the films tone; it doesn't concern itself with details or backstory or even much dialogue for that matter. This is a meditation on human resilience and determination. Anything else other than that leaves us just as alone as our nameless protagonist. Chandor's intention is to obviously keep things at a minimum and force us to look for the film's themes. Finding these themes, though, is just as elusive as our characters chances of survival. Maybe I missed the point, but all I could find here was the was he was going through some form of penance for his past misdeeds or that the story is an allegory for mortality. Other than that, I felt as lost as him and could fully relate to the film's appropriate title.
That being said, there's still much to admire here. Chandor's minimalist approach manages to balance the vast open space with a real sense of claustrophobia and Redford's paired down performance is absolutely captivating. He has such a comforting and recognisable presence that it's easy to adapt to his character and his isolation. It takes a great actor to be able to hold your attention when they are practically saying nothing and completely carrying a film on their own. Redford's work here is reminiscent of Tom Hanks' exemplary and Oscar nominated performance in "Cast Away" and it's hard to accept that he missed out on an nomination himself, when many expected him to feature. His performance is a very physical one and all the more impressive considering he's now at the tail-end of his 70's. It's a lonely and gruelling journey and despite the lack of dialogue, Redford's subtlety speaks volumes. It's almost as if we we can hear his internal dialogue and the conversation he's continually having with himself. There is much to recommend this film but if there's only one reason to see it, it would be for Redford.
Most of the ingredients are here for a potential modern classic. Chandor's direction is impressive, as is Redford's outstanding central performance. Alex Ebert also conducts a wonderfully ethereal music score that compliments the powerful cinematography.
However, as much as I enjoyed "All Is Lost" for these attributes, I struggled with it's relentlessness and couldn't really see the point of it all.
Films like Cast Away, The Edge, and Into the Wild all include another lost character to whom the main character can discuss his thoughts and plans, but All Is Lost proves that other people are not necessary to tell this kind of story, especially when Robert Redford is at the helm. Redford is always interesting, and his sparse dialogue doesn't encumber him. A film that risks being boring because of its lack of interaction between characters remains engaging because of Redford and the editing that effectively skips the meaningless preparations and moves right to the genius improvised stratagems.
The film's flaw is how cliche all the plot points are. Tankers that miss the stranded man, storms, and sharks are all staples of this genre, and I longed for an originality in obstacle that matched the originality in the man's solutions.
Overall, All Is Lost is more engaging that one might think, but its strength as a story is surpassed by other films.
A seasoned yachtsman's boat rams into a shipping container, and he spends much of the first act disengaging the port side from the container with a water anchor, repairing the hole while hanging off a makeshift scaffold, pumping out the water inside the cabin, creating potable water, using a sextant to map a course to the shipping channels - generally being a water bound MacGyvering badass. The actions are silent but riveting for his expertise and quick response. I've never actually seen Robert Redford in a film, but he is sturdy and spry in his first acting role in decades - showing off his avid stunt bravery, fair physique in old man sweaters and chinos, and gruff, lined face that needn't emote too much.
Nature continues to throw everything it has at the man, and he continues to fight a losing war - saying nary a word save for a dry mouthed, guttural "Fuuuuck!" which rang slightly awkward for Redford. This Man vs. Nature movie doesn't make me cringe like "Into the Wild" did because the man is clearly prepared for all manners of water emergencies; all is lost because Nature sometimes gets her way. The tension we feel is real, not just pity or annoyance for the ignorant and arrogant McCandless. The minimal backstory provides hints at some familial estrangement, so the man's lone sojourn wasn't motivated out of yuppie ennui but a deep-seated need to literally set adrift.
The moment he sends the message in a jar is so subtle and poignant: he cocks his arm back to throw the jar then stops short, weighs his last words in his hand with a tinge of hope, then just exasperatedly lets the jar drop in the water, sighing cynically at his fleeting ray of hope.
SPOILERS: The man setting his raft ablaze seemed like a last-ditch effort, but it wasn't clear. Did he decide to just drown himself if no one sees his beacon, and is drowning oneself even possible without an anchor? The anonymous arm pulling him out of the water into white light could be literal or metaphorical salvation. I enjoy how the movie just ended like that.
Very Good Film! Robert Redford has never exerted this amount of skill in his acting career. At 77-years-old, Redford taps into the epitome of the human spirit with no words to assist him. With only nearly ten lines of words spoken, 90% of that in our opening shot of a shipping container with no Redford present, he relies on his own mannerisms and dexterity to bridge us comfortably and confidently into our tale. It's his best performance in the last 25 years. As it would be expected in a film with no dialogue, the sound design becomes the forefront and star. Rain and ocean rush across the screen and speakers to place us right in the moment. A fierce intensity boils to the brim when the sound really takes off. It's not as simple as sitting in a life raft and watching the rain fall; in many ways, "All is Lost" acts as an independent action thriller with a strong narrative device, something we don't see too often. "All is Lost" is one of the more pleasing and emotionally satisfying dramas of the year that had me at the edge of my seat. Simple and without plot edges, All is Lost was worth the excursion.
Deep into a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, an unnamed man (Redford) wakes to find his 39-foot yacht taking on water after a collision with a shipping container left floating on the high seas. With his navigation equipment and radio disabled, the man sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. Despite his success in patching the breached hull, his mariner's intuition and a strength that belies his age, the man barely survives the tempest. Using only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his progress, he is forced to rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane in hopes of hailing a passing vessel. But with the sun unrelenting, sharks circling and his meager supplies dwindling, the ever-resourceful sailor soon finds himself staring his mortality in the face.
Allow me to furor my brow at the reception All is Lost has gotten thus far. It's not a bad movie but when you boil it down it's a rendition of The Old Man and the Sea minus, you know, the giant fish. I knew going in that the film was going to be minimalist, but I didn't think it would be this dull. It is literally a guy manning a boat for 90 minutes, patching things up, with the situation getting worse. Then he's in a raft. Then he's low on supplies. Then, well, it ends pretty much how you'd expect though with a flicker of ambiguity for the squeamish. The drama of human survival, of man against nature, can be plenty invigorating, but instead Chandor takes a more leisurely and studiously pessimistic approach, and so we watch Redford slowly fail. The filmmaking can barely keep your interest. He hoists the sale. He tends a hole in his boat. He salvages electronics. There are a couple of choppy storms that throw the ship around, but The Perfect Storm this isn't. Nor is it Open Water. There is a certain brainy enjoyment from survival thrillers, thinking alongside the characters, but our opportunities are absent here unless you know a thing or two about sailing, otherwise I just kept thinking, "fix the hole in your boat." It takes a good while, until the third act when Redford is forced to abandon his sinking vessel, before the perilous reality seems to settle in. Beforehand it feels like the film is dawdling, and I just found myself shrugging and growing restless. It feels callow of me to complain that not enough happens onscreen when I'm watching a man struggle to survive at sea, but that's because the sense of urgency is nil. I watched Redford eat beans out of a can more than I saw him sweat over his predicament. I wish Redford had been paired with a tiger or a volleyball for decent screen company.
This is very much a one-man show with Redford ably holding the screen, but will you care about his character and his plight? The character is nonexistent, far more so than the similar charge against the other awards-friendly survival thriller, Gravity. I always felt like I was observing Redford from a distance, never fully emotionally engaged, and more so just studying his survival skills like there might be a test later. That's because Redford serves as a metaphorical stand-in for all of humanity (the character's listed name is "Our Man"); the movie feels replete with allegory, which makes the tedium all the more unbearable for me. I didn't feel the man's horror or nerves or despair or urgency. I didn't feel much of anything. That's because I believe that Redford's acting history is meant to fill in for the absence of character. We're not watching any man brave the dangers of the ocean, we're watching the aging Hollywood screen idol dig into his own screen history and showcase what remains. It's a fine performance that kept me watching but it felt too modulated, too controlled, too internalized to translate the myriad of emotions necessary. It's 90 minutes of Redford standing in for himself standing in for humanity, named "Our Guy," remember. That already sounds laborious.
Chandor received notoriety for his smart, hard-hitting Mamet-esque dialogue, and deft handling of actors, but All is Lost showcases a whole other set of skills in his storyteller toolbox. Being nearly wordless, the movie is one giant exercise in visual storytelling. Chandor's camera angles, editing, and in particular the use of sound and lighting, keep the audience oriented smoothly. While it may take a moment to gauge what Redford is doing, there is a logical connection to his actions. There's a visual mastery here that was not even hinted at with Margin Call, which was mostly a stage play of boardroom conversations put on film. The special effects are seamlessly integrated into the film and having Redford perform many of his own stunts adds to the overall verisimilitude, the film's calling card. I feel like Chandor the director outdid Chandor the writer.
All is Lost is a film I can better respect than support, an intellectual exercise in a deteriorating and seemingly doomed survival scenario, the anti-Cast Away. It's probably as realistic as these things get, but does that make it interesting? The details of reality are there but the story and especially the character work is lagging. It's nice to see Redford with such a meaty part, and obviously one he is connecting with, but I wish his talents were put to greater non-metaphorical purposes. With the plot and characterization stripped, it appears that Chandor's film is rife for allegorical analysis, noting the struggle in the face of overwhelming odds, the futility of existence, etc. To me, that sounds like you're doing the movie's work for it. The overall lack of urgency just wrings out what entertainment there could have been with this tale of survival. When your main character doesn't recognize the threat, then that transfers to the audience, and we too shrug. All is Lost is certainly well made from a technical standpoint, with Chandor showing impressive visual storytelling prowess, but it drags and offers little incentive to connect. What ends up being lost is your patience and attention.
Nate's Grade: B-
The screenplay is daring, betting everything on Our Man, and succeeding in a big way. Redford's weathered face produces a gamut of expressions, clearly conveying his internal thoughts. The calmness and brutal nature of the sea is something I'm always in awe of; this film captures it in all the right ways.