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Review: All Is Lost – Old man versus the sea

Posted by on October 25, 2013 – 7:45 am

All Is LostIn a dark and quiet place, an old man looks back at his life and his pending mortality and wonders to himself, “How did I get here?” No, I’m not talking about the plot of the new film, All Is Lost; I’m referring to an old fat guy sitting in the theater feeling lame of body and meaningless of being while watching a fit, trim and still handsome 77 year-old Robert Redford on screen. Thanks a lot, Bob!

Oh, the movie review … Robert Redford, and absolutely no one but Robert Redford, stars in this very different survival film, All Is Lost; a movie with almost no dialogue and no character background or development, but which, somehow, still manages to work magnificently.

One can’t help but compare All Is Lost to the recent Gravity film. Both are stories about survival against insurmountable odds and both have the smallest casts of any movie I can remember seeing. But where Gravity propelled its narrative by having the characters speak to a phantom “mission control,” just in case they were listening, All Is Lost is all Redford and he delivers his excellent performance using facial expressions and body language – and almost no words.

The plot of All Is Lost is simple; an older man (we never know his name) is sleeping on a small yacht in the Indian Ocean when the vessel strikes a giant storage container (the type you would see on a train or, in this case, a merchant ship) that is floating in the water. The collision causes damage to the boat and things go from bad to worse as the man makes every effort he can to survive the elements in the middle of the immense ocean.

I don’t know a lot about sailing, but it seemed to me that the character makes some pretty dumb decisions in the course of trying to save himself and his boat, but I think that’s the point. We don’t know anything about this man’s experience, why he is on this journey or what his goals are other than to survive; and the gimmick of keeping the character’s backstory and thought processes to a bare minimum makes for a very different and unique viewing experience – or experiment anyway – where the observer is allowed to fill in those details for themselves – or just enjoy the simple survival story for what it is.

All Is LostAll Is Lost is the brainchild of writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), who appears to have worked well with veteran icon, Redford, who delivers an incredible performance (and makes many of us younger-older guys feel severely inadequate.) The film was shot, at least in part, at the same water-tank studio where Titanic was filmed, but a good portion appears to be filmed on the open sea as well.

I’m a sucker for a good survival tale, and I also enjoy seeing something different and original at the movies, like the minimalist style in which this story is told, so I really enjoyed this film. But I didn’t think it was quite as good as last year’s Life of Pi or Kon-Tiki, or the recently released Gravity.

In many ways, All Is Lost reminds me of the 2002 film by Gus Van Sant, Gerry  (where Casey Affleck and Matt Damon are lost in the desert and spend most of the film walking in silence), in that it has many extended scenes where nothing appears to happen, but where the silence speaks volumes.

My only (very minor) issue with this film is in its ending, which is ultimately gratifying, but is also somewhat conventional given the unorthodox approach the rest of the movie takes. I have some theories about it, but I don’t want to give anything away. In the end, All Is Lost lets you draw your own conclusions. Grade: 8/10

Photos © 2013 Roadside Attractions