All Is Lost is quality filmmaking that features an amazing physical performance from Robert Redford and incredible cinematography, but it ultimately lacks emotional depth, which stops it from equaling the suspense present in other survival stories, Alphonso Cuaron’s Gravity amongst them.
Robert Redford is the only actor who could have effectively played Our Man. Writer/Director J.C. Chandor doesn’t let us connect to his character, so he needs an actor whom we recognize as much for his work behind and away from the camera as for his work in front of it, an actor, in other words, who can make us feel like we know the character despite the script’s failure to develop him. More than any other former or current A-List star, Robert Redford is that actor.
Yet, All Is Lost struggles to gain our investment in Our Guy’s fate. Redford does everything he can to breathe personality and depth into this character, and there are times he succeeds, as when he pores over a book on celestial navigation, frets over a makeshift patch placed on a massive hole in the exterior of his yacht, or when he realizes he is perilously low on fresh water. But, in the end, Redford cannot do enough to overcome the fact that Chandor’s script does not define his character. Whereas Gravity gives us a mostly-unknown woman in peril, All Is Lost gives us a movie star pretending to be in trouble.
For that reason alone, Chandor’s feature doesn’t generate the level of suspense and tension for which it aims. I’m not arguing that this movie is suspenseless; there are some riveting and captivating moments here, most notably one in which Redford is hoisted dozens of feet above the ocean. I’m saying All Is Lost isn’t as suspenseful as it needs to be, and as it might have been if we had known Our Guy just a little better. If we had some reason to see this character as more than a familiar face, his fate would have carried more emotional weight.
For all of that, All Is Lost is still very good. Life of Pi (2012) makes the ocean more beautiful than any other movie I have seen. All Is Lost makes it scarier. The thunderstorms. The waves. The horizon. The endlessness. Even the innocent schools of fish near the surface. All are spectacularly eerie, creepy, and combine to produce a powerful sense of dread.
Moreover, Robert Redford is amazing. He has never been better than he is here. In my opinion, Tom Hanks’ turn in Captain Phillips is a touch better, but Redford still delivers one of the year’s best performances. He will deserve any award recognition he receives.
All Is Lost is positively awe-inspiring to look at.
J.C. Chandor paces this film very well, giving Our Guy just enough momentary respite to let us (and him) catch our breath before the next crisis strikes.
I am glad I saw All Is Lost, and I think it is quite good. I also think it could have been better if Our Guy had been more of a character.