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.