Film Review – All Is Lost

All Is Lost

All Is Lost

Robert Redford brilliantly holds the screen in All Is Lost, the single-cast-member story of one man trying to survive. Redford is Our Man (the only name given for the character on IMDb), who is sleeping on his boat when a cargo container ruptures the side of it, causing water to rush in and short out his electricity, including radio and navigation. From there, we see him go about in a matter-of-fact manner trying to fix the boat and survive. Beyond a voiceover in which he describes to someone that he believes he is going to die and that he is sorry about something, in the beginning of the film we learn very little about Our Man. We see that he is an expert seaman who knows how to handle many situations and work different equipment. That is all we get, but it is really all we need.

Redford does some of his best work here. Our Man appears stoic and calm through much of what befalls him, taking it in as a man who knows what he must do to keep going. He calmly gets his gear, makes repairs, and even relaxes, reads, and cooks a meal for himself. While this sounds very mundane, it is the way he goes about it all that keeps this film engaging. It is not always clear what he is doing or what will happen at any moment; seeing how he responds to events gives us our sense of urgency. It’s not that Redford is inexpressive, but he keeps himself determined for most of the film. He is expressionistic in the moments that, to this man, truly warrant it, and when those moments happen, you feel his despair, and it takes on an added importance.

All Is Lost Movie Still 1 - Robert Redford

Besides Redford’s work giving us this man to follow, writer/director J. C. Chandor and his technical crew create great tension and give us a sense of what it is like out on the ocean. The camera works almost as if we are right there with Redford: calm and focused when little is happening to him, then becoming shaky when the elements start to attack his ship. If we do leave Our Man, it is for shots under the boat, seeing the large ocean that is the overwhelming world he is trapped in. These visual feats not only work for us to see the ocean world, but also show the way the rain strikes during storms, and the rocking of the ship shows the danger better than any dialogue could. The importance of a dark theater becomes clear. The atmosphere is enhanced by the lack of any distractions, letting the experience wash over the viewer.

The sound work here is just as important as the visuals. With almost no dialogue, senses become more attuned to the ambient noise. Alex Ebert‘s haunting score works as a slow build, or comes on intently over the scene, seeming as if Our Man can hear it barreling down him. Also, just hearing the the way the sails flap around, the movement of the boat, the splashing of the waves impresses; all are beautifully rendered, making us feel like we are there on this small boat. It keeps the tension going in a different way, as we listen as well as look for what troubles could be coming next.

All Is Lost Movie Still 2 - Robert Redford

Survival movies tend to have a tone to them where we know whether the person will make it or not, but here it is more opaque. Our Man is shown to have the skills and the gear to get by, yet the visceral hardships that are brought down on him leave a great deal of doubt. Would it be more intriguing to see even the most intelligent and prepared sailor fail? Does the amount of time we spend with him still make us want to see him survive? These questions were on my mind, and without saying what happens, the film ends very satisfyingly.

This is only Chandor’s second feature film. His first, Margin Call, was a dialogue-heavy back-and-forth between several characters, and it is now followed by a film with one actor at the center, with a focus on the visuals and sound. This versatility is encouraging in such a new filmmaker. Then there is Robert Redford, at 77, his legacy already established, going out and showing that there is so much more that he is still capable of. Chandor’s trust that Redford can keep us invested pays off beautifully, with his technical crew having crafted a visual and audio experience that will not be forgotten.


Benjamin is a film connoisseur and Oscar watcher who lives in Minneapolis and, when not reviewing movies, works at the Hennepin County Library.

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