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All Is Lost - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
All Is Lost
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-
Special Effects: A-

With a title like All Is Lost, you might expect this movie to wallow in the depths of despair. "Wallow" is maybe too strong a word, but not by a wide margin. This movie really is a slow and steady descent into hopelessness.

What does it have to recommend it, then? Plenty, depending on what you can endure. The performance by Robert Redford, who is the single cast member, is somewhat difficult to gauge. There is nearly no dialogue in this movie, handled well enough to make it an anomaly rather than a gimmick. Aside from the couple of times he tries in vain to scream at distant passing ships or the one time he makes a fruitless attempt at using a water damaged CB radio, he spends the entire film either just moving about, methodically doing what he can do survive, or desperately trying to avoid death. It really depends on the weather.

Some might find this movie far too slow -- an hour and forty-six minutes is a long time to spend watching just one man who almost never speaks. And yet, curiously, All Is Lost is all action. The only genuine dialogue is right at the beginning, when we listen to him read aloud a letter he is later seen sealing in a jar and tossing off the side of his life raft.

We never learn anything about this man, except that he's quite resourceful under unexpectedly dire circumstances and his sailboat is rather well stocked with survival equipment and information. We know not where he comes from, or what family he might have, or even what he was doing snoozing on a sailboat out in the middle of the Indian Ocean when it suddenly hits a floating shipping container. Too bad there's nothing inside it he can use. This one's full of shoes. What are the odds that his boat would smack into this one shipping container out in the vastness of the ocean, anyway?

The first half or so of the movie consists of this man trying to keep the boat afloat, while figuring out where he is and where he's drifting. He consults nautical maps and teaches himself how to use navigation tools. He patches up the hole in the side of the boat. This is impressive given what's available to him, but inevitably, it doesn't quite last.

Naturally a storm comes. This is where All Is Lost gets pretty harrowing, with the boat getting overturned not once, but twice. In a sense, this is a story of how survival instincts kick in under desperate circumstances, even for an old man. There is no attempt to make the 77-year-old Redford seem any younger than he really is, except maybe for the strength and mental fortitude he demonstrates when, say, getting washed off the side of the boat. He had the wherewithal to tether himself to the boat, you see, and he's able to pull himself back up.

It's to the credit of director J.C. Chandor (who also gave us the excellent Margin Call) that All Is Lost, in all its simplicity, is never boring. It is by turns riveting and nerve-racking, all with no more lines than can be counted on one hand. It does not present as a "special effects movie," but given that it was filmed in a water tank, the vast majority of its shots are impressively rendered as the middle of the open ocean. It's a little like Life of Pi, just without the fable element or flashy effects. It's just an old man slowly realizing he's done for. Fun!

That said, one could argue that the end is a cop out. I won't spoil it, except to say that I can't decide if I'd like the movie better or worse without that final shot, shown from just beneath the surface of the water. You'll have to decide for yourself. It's a question worth investigating.

Robert Redford holds on for dear life in ALL IS LOST.

Overall: B+
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