It may be technically a little late to call All Is Lost “new” considering it has been on Netflix since September 5th, but it is one I’ve had my eye on for a while and finally got a chance to watch it and get a review written.
Starring Robert Redford and only Robert Redford, All Is Lost is a small intimate take on the lost at sea genre. There is virtually nothing in the way of backstory in the film and it contains next to no spoken dialogue. Outside of a short monologue by Redford’s character during the opening scene and a few words spoken into a failing radio, the sound in the film is entirely that of the ocean, a calming and subtle score and a few old man grunts and yells.
For better or worse All Is Lost is the cinematic equivalent of a short story. Everything is very self-contained and the film lacks any sort of satisfying opening or conclusion. I completely understand the experimental point of the movie, in that the viewer is given the bare bones amount of information to understand what is going on and that’s it, but at least a little bit of an idea of who the main character is or was before being lost at sea would have done wonders to really set the stakes for the film. Even without unnecessary flashbacks or inner monologue (of which this film thankfully had none), there are still plenty of ways we could have learned the backstory of the main character through his interactions with certain items or even a picture or two about his cabin. As it stands, we know almost nothing and it takes a bit of the edge away from what would have otherwise been extremely tense scenes. We know he’s a fairly experienced boat captain based on his quick reactions to situations, but that’s just about it.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just a heartless bastard, but it was hard for me to really care if the main character lived or died. He was just some presumably rich guy on a boat that was about to sink. This contrasts greatly to, say, Cast Away, where I was very invested in the main character while he was lost on an island. That was the result of a mix of a relatable character and an astounding performance by Tom Hanks. Both of which All Is Lost severely lacked.
Robert Redford did a good enough job at portraying an elderly man trapped on a sinking yacht, but did not elevate the film in any noticeable way. There were several parts, especially early on, where I could just tell that the director, J.C. Chandler, was telling him something along the lines of “ok, you’re exhausted and just sat down, now fall over” or “now the boat is shaking, run into this pole.” All of his acting was very literal to the situation at hand and felt stilted and unnatural. In a movie lacking any kind of character building in the script, it is a pretty big misfire when the lead actor can’t bring an extra dose of life to the main character.
Visually the film was excellent and the great camera work is what saves All Is Lost from being just average. Every shot was carefully crafted and gave the film a great claustrophobic feel, despite being in a giant ocean. What the storytelling and acting lack in character building, the intimate cinematography makes up for. Some of my favorite shots were the ones done underwater that featured some gorgeous shots of the fish swimming around the main character’s boat. Beautifully shot movie all around. My only minor complaint is that the shaky cam during the intense storm sequences got a little more nauseating than I’m guessing Chandler intended, but even then they still got across what they needed to well enough so I can’t complain too much.
The ending in itself was by far the most disappointing thing in All Is Lost for me. I’m trying not to spoil it here but it was so close to having a beautiful and unique ending, then at the last second it swings around into a giant cliche that essentially goes against the tone of the rest of the movie and reinforces the fact that the main character could really have used some more backstory. It was so incredibly disappointing.
Despite my review sounding pretty negative, I really enjoyed All Is Lost. If you’ve ever enjoyed a lost at sea story in the past you know what you are going to get with this one, but that’s not enough to make me dislike it. It doesn’t do anything particularly new or unique (save from how it was shot with only the main character throughout the whole thing) but it’s a competently put together and visually striking piece of cinema that I can easily recommend to just about everyone.