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All Is Lost

by Leonard Maltin
October 18, 2013 12:00 AM
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Robert Redford-All Is Lost-485
Photo by Daniel Daza - Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

You can’t accuse writer-director J.C. Chandor of misleading the audience by naming his movie All is Lost. The grim foreshadowing indicated by that title is furthered by the opening narration, in which the film’s main (and only) character leaves a farewell message in which he admits that he is out of options. That passage is the longest stretch of dialogue in the movie, which otherwise consists of Robert Redford struggling to survive on a sailboat that has been badly damaged, 1,700 miles from land, without a working radio.

What follows is a gripping story of one man’s resourcefulness and determination. Since that man is the nimble and charismatic Redford, it’s easy to pay attention through his many trials…up to a point.

All Is Lost is a daring, even experimental film, but it’s also relentless. At a certain juncture I found my mind wandering, because the movie simply wore me out. Nothing goes right for the protagonist. Then matters get worse. After that, even more things go wrong…and so on. Since we’ve already been told that all is lost, we know this is not headed in a good direction.

Redford’s character is incredibly resilient. We’re well into the picture before we see him express actual frustration. Those repressed emotions may have also figured in my muted response.

All Is Lost is remarkably executed. If you’re a credit-reader you’ll see how many locations were utilized and how difficult it must have been to realize this material onscreen. Yet you’re not aware of the filmmaking technique or craft for a good, long time. Everything is designed to serve the story and its endless parade of dramatic incidents. Movie magic may have been at work in more than one scene, but it’s all been rendered invisible. In many key scenes it is evident that Redford is performing his own stunts; in many ways, his presence is the film’s most valuable asset.

I just wish the movie had left me feeling satisfied instead of tired and worn out. I can admire things about it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it.

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  • JD | March 10, 2014 6:03 PMReply

    This movie either grabs you, or it doesn't.
    I thought it was an outstanding film, but I can see that it won't click with everyone. I'm a little surprised Leonard wasn't more enthusiastic about the film given that it was really well made, and it's told well.

  • Ivan Sudofsky | November 6, 2013 4:41 PMReply

    Thanks for your objectivity, Leonard! I saw the word DAZZLING on the poster and got sucked into watching this movie in the theater. But the narration seems read off the page word for word, and the emotionless deadpan that worked well in 'Jeremiah Johnson' just made this character seem unreal and unengaged.

    It seems that other reviewers are stuck in their awe of Robert Redford - who still looks good on camera even at his advanced age.

  • Jeffrey | November 2, 2013 12:48 AMReply

    Was anyone thirsty when they came home from watching this film?

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