Film Review: All is Lost

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Plot: A sailor (Robert Redford) finds himself lost at sea as he fights to survive over the course of several days.

Robert Redford acts on a boat for two hours. Thanks folks, that’s my review. Some people may read that first sentence and immediately run to the theater, while others would probably yawn at the very idea of this one man show. Sometimes this premise can work, but other times, it’s just as boring as it reads. Fortunately for All Is Lost, it’s a massive hit, and delivers the powerful emotional impact that is absolutely required from a film like this. And while it could have been better, there’s no denying Robert Redford being one of the few actors who can command the screen in this way.

I’m not sure this movie will be big enough for him to get an Oscar nomination, but his name will certainly be thrown into the mix. The only word to really describe his turn as this unnamed sailor is captivating, and it’s all through facial expressions, which is the toughest acting there is. I could write on an on about how incredible Redford’s performance is, but I’d just be babbling. He’s worth the price of admission – let’s leave it at that.

I also can’t help but compare this to Gravity, and why this is actually a better film. Both are about someone trying to survive the elements, except one’s in space, and the other is at sea. What separates this film from Gravity though is that All Is Lost doesn’t try to have it’s cake, and eat it too. While we all marvel at the visual mastery that is Gravity, it tries to force an emotionally manipulative back story and character arc that is completely half- assed. All Is Lost commits 100% to its premise – this is a guy you will learn nothing about who’s lost at sea. The end. There’s no hokey dialogue. There’s no forced back story. It’s just a man fighting mother nature. Gravity would have been much better if they took this approach. Don’t have scenes where Sandra Bullock is talking to herself. Don’t have filler sequences of her talking to some nameless guy on the radio just because you feel like you need dialogue. The fact that All Is Lost has literally three scenes of dialogue was the right way to go. I know I’m supposed to be reviewing All Is Lost, but I do think the comparisons are important.

Even though dialogue barely happens here, when it does, it’s unbelievably effective. This is where Redford goes another level in his performance. When he has to talk, there is this slight hesitation, almost like he forgets how to speak because it’s been so long since he’s had to. The film only uses dialogue when it absolutely has to. And while Redford is definitely the MVP of this movie, the director (J.C. Chandor) is almost equally as impressive.

I’m basically immune to jump scares, but he was able to catch me off guard a couple times. There’s also a sequence where the character has to tend to a head injury. It’s a subtle moment, but just the way Chandor is able to make you cringe as you watch the man mend himself speaks volumes to the direction. There’s also a lot of painful moments where you think the man is going to be saved, but it doesn’t happen. I’m very much looking forward to what this director does next.

Visually, the film looks great as well. Anytime the character is fighting against a huge storm, it’s as powerful as you’d want it to be. There is also a lot of fantastic cinematography, including some downright glorious shots above and below the boat.

For all the praise I’m heaping on the film though, it does fall short of being great. The movie is just a bit too slow and repetitive. While I’m enjoying Redford’s performance, how many times do we need to see his boat get damaged or flooded, and he has to repair it. There’s also way too many times where I thought the movie was going to end, but it just kept going. If the film was just a little bit tighter, it could have reached another level.

For all the film’s shortcomings, it’s definitely a tension filled ride worth seeing based on Redford’s performance alone. The score by Alex Ebert is also incredible. All Is Lost…a slightly better version of Gravity.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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