All is Lost

Release: Friday, October 18, 2013 (limited)


Somewhere along the way here, I swear Robert Redford was going to bump into the guys of the Andrea Gale and he’d have to hop aboard Clooney’s doomed ship in the middle of his perfect storm; then later when he comes within feet of a massive cargo ship, it looked like Captain Rich Phillips was possibly going to be the 70-something-year-old sailor’s savior.

Alas, neither actually turned out to be the case, and Redford — credited in this film simply as ‘Our Man’ — must continue to find a way to hold on, and simply wait. Wait to live. Wait to die. Wait for a resolution, that would never come. (Yes — yes that is indeed a third stranded-at-sea-themed movie reference. . . . .but what is it??)

All is Lost is a strange film. Neither a visionary achievement as I’ve seen it touted as, nor anywhere close to being boring either, this is a film trapped in Purgatory; destined forever to serve up heaping helpings of indifference to those who are seeking character development — who wouldn’t, in a movie about someone trying to survive the elements?

If there’s one element of this production that may need orienting, it’s that Redford does indeed turn in a performance to be reckoned with come the awards ceremony. Saddled with as few as perhaps five lines of dialogue throughout the course of an hour and forty-five minutes, his sailor-dude-guy is tasked with resorting to his most primitive of survival modes, a challenge Redford was apparently up for. Emoting with virtually just his facial expressions, the actor is likewise forced to turn in an economical performance, a feat that does pay off come time to sink or swim.

However, as good as Redford is at portraying Our Man as a supremely efficient, calm individual, even in the face of this kind of adversity, there’s absolutely no entry point for the audience as far as finding out who exactly he is as a human being is concerned. We will come to quickly understand how experienced of a sailor he is. But why is he out here? Where is he going. . or at least was trying to get to? If he passes away on the ocean, who will he be survived by? The drama surrounding Our Man is. . .e-hem. . .watered down by the fact that we will get no such resolution.

That’s incredibly frustrating, really, when considering the ride otherwise is quite compelling. In many ways, All is Lost provides an alternative route through the terror and isolation revealed in Alfonso Cuarón’s outer space thriller just a month or so ago. Whereas Gravity thrust us into the incoherent depths of a world beyond our atmosphere, All is Lost is intent on selling the same kind of experience safely inside of it. The oceans are some seriously large chunks of real estate, and God help you if ever you’re so lucky as to come crashing into a randomly floating cargo container in the middle of the night.

Such is the plight of Our Man, who immediately goes about fixing the ship’s damaged hull and rigging up a system to bail out the water from the cabin. After several unsuccessful attempts at sending out S.O.S. calls to the Coast Guard, he comes to the realization that all electronics have been conveniently rendered useless. Surely it can’t seem to get much worse than that, right? Unfortunately it does, and on the following evening a strong thunderstorm threatens to wipe him out completely. He manages to see through the night, but is forced to board his emergency raft after taking on enough water to sink the Virginia Jean.

The cost of not giving this man a character, a reason for being, is constantly exposed by the lack of any other flaws in the film. Such frustration is compounded by the film’s perfect pacing. There’s this obvious transitional point when Our Man abandons his yacht and enters the raft, yet most of the scenes that make up these two “halves” pass by so breezily that the ending to the film comes almost as a shock.

All is Lost can’t help but feel robbed of any meaning when the film’s sole cast member (credited or otherwise) has spent the entire time in anonymity. We gather his survival skills are sharp — most of us likely wouldn’t make it past day three under these circumstances. He makes it to number eight. Yet, if the grand take-away here is to show how truly limited our species is when it comes to habitat — clearly, we cannot survive out at sea — I feel like there are better films already reaching for this. I’m not sure this is a fair evaluation, but it’s what I have been able to surmise with such limited information.


3-0Recommendation: Robert Redford fans are likely to be impressed (again), since he commands the screen for the entire time. But with the only other character on display being his boat, he doesn’t exactly have a lot of competition. See it for his ability to convey a good range of emotions in relative silence, see it for the scenery (the cinematography is gorgeous), but do not go to this movie searching for meaning. I’m quite sure there’s none to be had.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 105 mins.

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18 thoughts on “All is Lost

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  3. It’s a noble exercise, but it doesn’t resonate as entertainment. You’re one of the few (beside me) that didn’t give this a perfect review. I’m sure Robert Redford will get nominated for an Oscar. He might even win. I don’t begrudge his performance because he is good. As far as an engaging film is concerned, this came up lacking.


    • Yes, we sit pretty even-keel on this one I think. I wanted to heap all the praise I could on this, and I think I actually might have because it killed me how little we knew about Our Man. In some ways, this is obviously J.C. Chandor’s intent, but I don’t know why he thought it would be more effective if practically every reason for why it’s intense to be human out there is left unsaid. The obvious is there: he will die sooner or later, but really. . . what kind of life might he be leaving behind? No clue. I kind of hope he doesn’t get the win just because of that. There’s so many other good choices


    • Thanks Chris, that’s how I’d advertise it having now seen it. It’s decent but it could have been something so much better. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts if you get to it.


  4. Good review Tom. This really is Redford’s movie from start to finish. I highly doubt he won’t get nominated for this, but as for a win? Who knows!


    • Yeah it’ll be a tough call. I don’t think he will win anything, since there’s’ such heavy competition already. . . and we haven’t even gotten into the December/January releases yet! haha. He’s great with what he has here, undoubtedly.


    • Hey Fernando — that’s really cool! And I appreciate it, I hope you get more out of it yourself. I thought Redford was superb, but was ultimately limited by the concept here. It’s an interesting picture for sure.


    • Thanks buddy. Great point as well, Redford gives this his all. Especially at his age, there’s a few remarkable things he does here. I will never be taking that away from All is Lost. But I was so letdown by the development of his character, on anything other than what greets the eye on the screen here. I look forward to seeing how your experience goes!


  5. Very strong commentary. Despite agreeing with you on every level, I still like the flick a bit more than you do, I think. Yet, it certainly has a gaping flaw: who is this guy?


    • James that’s it for me entirely — who is Our Man?? Why should any of this — his trials and tribulations, the opening moments, the dramatic despair towards the end — actually matter? It doesn’t, and I was put off by that. Otherwise, this film is a work of art. It looks good, feels true to what life would be like in these dire circumstances, and the score is also really beautiful. But I’m in this for the humanity, and I didn’t get that. I’m glad you enjoyed it more though. It’s certainly a decent picture, I don’t mean at all to suggest it’s not well-made.


      • Actually, I think I made all of the same points in my review …. I just wound up grading it a bit higher. In the end, it seems we agree. 🙂


  6. Great review, Tom. I love seeing you coming into your own as a reviewer. Probably the more honest reviews of this film I’ve read too, as everyone is touting is as a glorious masterpiece. I’m still not sure on Redford either, but I like how well you explain his ability to act with just his body language and expressions. Look forward to seeing it in time.


    • Hey man I really appreciate it. I had to back off a lot on this review because I wanted to be really, really harsh here. The fact that we don’t ever get to know this guy really ticked me off in an otherwise perfect movie (as I stated earlier in the review.) For me, if you can’t get invested in the character, there’s not much hope for sanctuary elsewhere. This was certainly the case here. I appreciate the kind words. 🙂


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