You can probably tell whether you’re going to enjoy “All is Lost” based on the film’s synopsis. Robert Redford plays a sailor on a voyage somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Without any exposition or explanation, he wakes up one morning to find that his yacht has crashed into a shipping container. The sailor has no way to contact help and little means of navigation. Even though the sailor manages to patch the hole up, his boat won’t last long with hazardous weather conditions on the horizon.
What happens from there? Do we flashback to the sailor’s life before he set sail on these deadly waters? No, the plot reveals nothing of his past. We don’t even figure out the guy’s name. Pretty much everything the audience learns about the sailor is based on sheer observation, such a wedding band on his right ring finger. Other than an opening monologue, the sailor barely says a single word. Considering the film’s lack of dialog, it’s not surprising that the script for “All is Lost” is a mere 30 pages long.
Well, does something unusual happen to the sailor on his journey? Not especially. The film is essentially a week or so of him on the ocean, fighting the waters, fighting the storms, and fighting himself. Picture “Life of Pie” if you took out all the animals and the fantastic element.
So yeah, “All is Lost” is obviously an acquired taste that will bore some and intrigue others. Even the people who look upon the movie favorably are more likely to admire it than to fall in love with it. That being said, “All is Lost” is a really bold experiment that’s well worth checking out. It’s always interesting to see a film that doesn’t restrict itself to a three act narrative structure and simply shows a character living his life. The sailor is certainly a fascinating character to follow and much of that’s because of Redford’s performance. This is an unexpected role for Redford to take at this point in his film career, which has spanned over a miraculous 50 years. Being the only actor on screen the whole time is one thing, but Redford is given the additional challenge of having next to no lines to work with. Nevertheless, Redford creates an utterly sympathetic character through his arresting facial expressions and actions. We always feel this man’s internal and external struggle as he desperately thinks of methods to keep his ship afloat. Like Jean Dujardin in “The Artist,” Redford reminds us that sometimes giving a physical performance is much more difficult than delivering a Shakespearean speech.
There is technically one other character in “All is Lost” - the sea. Director J.C. Chandor of “Margin Call” did a majority of the filming for “All Is Lost” at Baja Studios, the same facility where James Cameron brought “Titanic” to life. Through some gorgeous cinematography, Chandor fashions the ocean into a vast presence that’s threatening, majestic, and mysterious all at once. The same can be said about the setting in “Gravity,” where Sandra Bullock played an astronaut lost in space. It’s actually quite a coincidence that both “Gravity” and “All is Lost” would come out within just a couple weeks of each other. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Redford and Bullock won the Best Actor an Actress Oscars this year for one-person shows?