All Is Lost is a movie where you can imagine two people sitting down to watch it, with one deciding it’s a transcendent masterpiece, while the other thinks it’s a pointless, crushing bore.
These days Robert Redford makes comparatively few movies, but here the 77-year-old doesn’t just take centre-stage, he’s the only person who appears on-screen throughout the running time. Not only that, but he has virtually no dialogue either.
Hell, he doesn’t even have a name.
He plays a mariner who’s sailing the Indian Ocean alone when his yacht randomly crashes into a loose shipping container. Initially it seems like something he can handle, as he ingeniously works out how to loosen the container and patch the hull. However the crash has knocked out his communications.
Things deteriorate when he ends up in the midst of a gargantuan storm and he must do everything he can just to survive. His situation gets worse and worse, and there’s no one he can call on to help.
All Is Lost is man vs. nature at its simplest. Indeed with no other people and thousands of miles of ocean surrounding the only character, it couldn’t get much simpler. It also smartly ensures it has a metaphorical edge, but it doesn’t shove it down your throat and it’s entirely up to you much you want to take from it.
It would be easy to watch it just as a simple and very well made adventure movie, but equally you could view it as a meditation on existence, with Redford’s character going from being someone trying to maintain the comforts and control he has over his life, to being stripped down to having to decide how much he wants to even stay alive.
With no dialogue it leaves you to ponder everything. For example at one point Redford goes into his disabled yacht and amongst all the things onboard he takes a single box. In most movies you’d be told exactly what it was that’s so important about this box and its contents, but here you’re left to piece that together yourself. Is he being forced to choose what it is most important in his life and what he absolutely has to hold onto in order to maintain his will to survive, or is he actually being foolish and sentimental?
All Is Lost is undoubtedly extremely well made, and many have rightly suggested that director J.C. Chandor (whose only previous feature is Margin Call) is one to watch out for. He shows an extremely strong eye in both the movie’s action sequences and its quieter moments, and his ability to balance the literal and the metaphorical is exceedingly good, ensuring one never suffers at the hands of the other.
As mentioned at the start of this review though, some will undoubtedly find it boring. However that’s more a result of the unusual nature of the movie rather than any specific failing. Some people are never going to enjoy a film about aging gent alone on a boat who doesn’t say anything, no matter how much crap you put him through. If you think that might be you I wouldn’t bother with All Is Lost, but everyone else should find a lot to enjoy.
Overall Verdict: At 77-years-old Robert Redford shows exactly why he’s always been such a magnetic presence on screen. He anchors a film that’s definitely unusual, but manages to be exciting, tense and surprisingly thought provoking.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac