Because it was released just a couple of weeks after Gravity, it’s hard to not think of the space movie when watching All is Lost, even if a more apt comparison might be “a stripped down Life of Pi without a tiger or philosophical lessons.” Both films involve a single person’s quest for survival against elements beyond control. Gravity put a female doctor up against the vastness of space, while All is Lost puts an elderly man against the harshness of the ocean. Both have no communication with other humans (after a certain point in the film, anyway), and both have to use smarts and training to survive.
The premise for All is Lost really is that simple. One man, played by Robert Redford, winds up being lost at sea and having to fight against a continually leaking ship (and life raft), treacherous weather, and a lack of supplies. If Gravity was the “Hollywood” version of the story, All is Lost is the “art house” one. There’s almost no dialogue — which thankfully means no extraneous back story — it moves at a much slower pace, and it relies even more heavily on its lead actor.
If what you want in a movie is to feel as if you’re trapped at sea in a leaking ship, you should watch All is Lost. The film does such an impressive job at making you feel as if you’re right there with Robert Redford. It speaks highly of both the filmmakers and Redford himself that a movie without much dialogue, score, or big, showy moments can be so captivating and exciting. The scope is limited and you won’t see too many “wow” moments, but you’ll find it tough to look away for most of the time it plays.
It does, however, get a little tiring after a while. I criticized Gravity for having a Murphy’s Law idea of plotting, and that doing that for over 90 minutes eventually strains credibility. All is Lost doesn’t suffer from this as badly, as it does actually permit breaks in the action, but the nightly torrential downpours and other acts of nature did get a little silly after a while, although nowhere near enough to ruin the film.
There were points in All is Lost when I felt like I hadn’t blinked for about 5 minutes. Some stunning shots and scenes fill this picture and the immersion is manages to provide is incredible. You get lost in its proceedings. Surprisingly, the filmmakers didn’t decide to also have shaky, seasickness-inducing, cinematography. You don’t feel as if you’re on a rocking boat, but you do feel as if you’re right there with Redford. It’s just that you’re somehow floating a couple of inches off the ground and don’t have to deal with the constant swaying.
All is Lost moves at the pace of its protagonist, who is a man in his (presumably) 70s, given that Redford is 77, even if he doesn’t look it. Redford’s character never does more than walk to where he needs to go, he takes his time looking for a solution, and then does his best to rectify the situation given what he has on-hand. It might not be truly realistic, but it feels like it is in the moment, and watching a mostly silent, elderly protagonist manage to carry a film like this is fantastic.
And because of the performance turned in by Redford — one of the best of his career, which is no small feat — the film also works as a quiet drama. Scenes of Redford doing nothing but staring into the endless sea surrounding him or eating one of the last cans of beans he has reveal more about his character than a monologue could, and it’s all because of how strong an actor Redford is. Seeing him slowly recognize of the film’s duration that there might be no way to survive this ordeal is heartbreaking.
The film has been stripped of almost all “movie moments,” by which I mean that it feels realistic and doesn’t contain any moments which stretch that. You don’t have, for instance, 77-year-old Redford fighting off a shark with a wooden stick — although I’d be remiss not to mention that sharks actually do appear in the film. This is a thinking man’s film. If you like films like The American and Drive instead of those like the Bourne series and The Transporter, you’ll like All is Lost.
And even without much of a back story or more of a point than “this guy wants to survive,” there is a bit of social commentary. His trip is initially disrupted by a loose crate filled with shoes. Later, he is ignored by a ship carrying more of these containers. The little man is too unimportant to be noticed by the corporations. Or maybe that’s looking at it too much. The film is more about the will to live and the strength of the human spirit, and will be thought of most for these things. The potential to be looked at deeper is there, though.
All is Lost is a powerful tale of the human spirit. It is wonderfully filmed and performed. Robert Redford will be nominated for all of the acting awards for which he is eligible, and he’ll likely win a lot of them. He’s that good here. It might not move at a quick pace but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t thrilling from start to finish. This is a smart and engaging survival film and I recommend giving it a watch.