‘All Is Lost’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 9th, 2014 at 6:21 pm,

all is lost movie review All Is Lost Review

A work of art that impresses as a competent example of minimalistic storytelling, yet still feels too cold and distant from the audience to be appreciated on a deeper level.

In All is Lost, a nameless man (Robert Redford) finds himself in a dangerous place in the middle of the Indian Ocean, after his yacht – dubbed the Virgina Jean – collides with a drifting sea container. The old sailor demonstrates a strength and resourcefulness that defies his age, as he manages to repair his prized vessel’s damaged hull (despite having limited supplies to do so) and pumps vast amounts of floodwater out from the main cabin.

With his navigation equipment and radio having been ruined during the accident, the enigmatic seaman must rely on his knowledge of the sea and instincts in order to survive. Who will ultimately walk away triumphant, in this primal battle between humankind and nature?

Written and directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), All is Lost is a harrowing tale of survival at sea along the lines of Alfonso Cuarón’s space thriller Gravity, but without the revolutionary visual style and unconventional shooting techniques. The narrative beats are similar, yet the script forgoes the philosophical aspects and emotional components that are present in Cuarón’s film. What you end up with is a work of art that impresses as a competent example of minimalistic storytelling, yet still feels too cold and distant from the audience to be appreciated on a deeper level.

all is lost robert redford review All Is Lost Review

The film’s greatest strength lies with its ability to make you feel as though you too are trapped at sea alongside Redford’s character (wryly referred to in the credits as “Our Man”); those with a strong ocean phobia, beware. Thanks to the shot choices made by Chandor and his frequent cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco – combined with underwater footage that was captured by Peter Zuccarini (Life of Pi) – the film generally maintains the illusion that Redford is trapped thousands of nautical miles away from land, with the exception of a few necessary CGI backdrops (during an ocean tempest sequence) that nonetheless have a distinct “budget look.”

All Is Lost flows along at a good pace (partly due to Pete Beaudreau’s editing), yet it also finds time to pause and reflect on the setting every so often; though, maybe not often enough. The ocean just never fully comes alive as a character, because the story is told from too much of a clinical perspective, even during the moments where various natural elements (storms, sunsets, aquatic life) are being expressed in what is intended to be poetic fashion. Credit where credit is due, though: the film concludes on a visually lush image – yet with little foundation to build upon, the final effect feels kind of empty.

robert redford storm all is lost movie All Is Lost Review

Chandor’s script has a clean three-act structure and wastes no time when it comes to the progression of the narrative, but it also shares some blame for the film’s shortcomings. In essence, every object and/or obstacle that Redford’s protagonist crosses paths with can be interpreted as a metaphor for something; yet, their meanings often tend to be too obtuse or under-developed. Because we know so little about who “Our Man”  is – and what the world around him means to him personally – the symbolism tends to be either too broad or too subtle for its own good.

Redford is no stranger when it concerns him having to hold the screen on his own, having done it before as far back as 1972, in Jeremiah Johnson. The 77-year old actor does an excellent job of handling the physical challenges of his role here, but the years of experience implied by his actions and weather-beaten skin just aren’t enough to make “Our Man” a fully-rounded character.

robert redford all is lost movie 2013 review All Is Lost Review

As the lead, Redford also handles the stoic mannerisms of “Our Man” with ease, yet he struggles during the interludes between the action/thrills – where he’s meant to communicate deep thought and/or emotion with little more than a simple facial expression – and thus, when he does turn to desperation, it doesn’t have as strong an impact. It’s difficult to invest in someone whose soul never really shines through, beyond the audience having a desire to not see this hard-working man killed.

Taken as a whole viewing experience, All Is Lost is like watching a movie adaptation of The Old Man and the Sea; that is, one where the story has been stripped of its richer thematic substance and shot in the style of a visually clean, yet mostly unfeeling documentary about what it’s like being stranded in the ocean, alone. Call it a noble-minded, but only partly successful experiment – one that will probably be a riveting moviegoing experience for some, but an unsatisfying trip across the ocean for others.

In case you’re still undecided, here is the trailer for All Is Lost:

517899378 3 620 439 All Is Lost Review


All Is Lost is now playing in a limited theatrical release. It is 106 minutes long and Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

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  1. 3.5 for the counselor and 2.5 for all is lost really?

    • I agree that The Counselor is a 3.5 but, for me, All is Lost was a 5/5.

    • I agree. All the reviews from other sources hint at the opposite. Many say this film is a borderline masterpiece.

    • Agree. Like I said before, what has this website became? Giving a mixed review for ‘All is Lost’ but a positive review for Ridley Scott’s latest disappointment? What?!

      • All is Lost and The Counselor were reviewed by two different people with different opinions and tastes. Screen Rant isn’t one big collective mind, you know.

    • As boogoo has stated the films were reviewed by different writers.
      Screen Rant does not use some committee system on film reviews.

      Sandy did point out the film would “probably be a riveting moviegoing
      experience for some” and no doubt you fall into that category.
      By the same token others might not have that reaction.

      It does strike me as an approach to a film that one
      would either love or not like that much at all.

  2. Your write-up Sandy made me think of Redford’s
    Jeremiah Johnson and the war with nature there.

    I can get “lost” in a film like this, particularly late
    at night or in a mostly empty theater auditorium.

    I had no idea this film was out there so thanks
    for that too and the great review of what it is.

  3. This is a great movie. I guess the reviewer wants something Reford has never offered. In fact, what we get it vintage Redford, as well as an introduction to Redford for the unacquainted, younger set. If you need more from this actor, script or whatever, buy a Prius instead of a Tesla. Period.

  4. I found this movie boring. Redford shows so little emotion that you just never get a sense of the danger. It’s just some dude floating around with a bored expression until the last reel.

  5. Good acting by Redford but one of the most unauthenic sailing movies ever.
    Obviously had no technical advisor. Mistakes so numerous one wonders how this American ever got to the Indian ocean in a sailboat alive.
    No good reason for all the errors. The correct stuff would have been just as good or better as the stupid stuff.

  6. A film with one location, one character, no dialogue? My first thought was not my cup of tea. Wrong! With a real “you are there” feel to it, I found “All is Lost” to be engrossing throughout, with a great performance by Robert Redford anchoring (no pun intended) it all. Not for everyone, but if you’re looking for something different in your movie going experience, this could be prove to be a real treat. CAUTION: if you’re prone to getting seasick, you may want to bring the Dramamine.

  7. I was extremely disappointed in this movie and I am a huge Redford fan. Yes, the movie by itself is a good battle of man against sea but it is completely devoid of the emotion for Our Man – there is no background, flashbacks, etc. from his profound apology letter he was writing, why he is out there alone to start with, his many mistakes referred to, etc. so I was left at the end totally empty and disappointed that this was simply a man against nature movie but the emotional build was left behind. It had so much potential but never got there, in my opinion.

  8. “There is nothing to save, now ALL IS LOST,
    but a tiny core of stillness in the heart,
    like the eye of a violet.” -D.H. Lawrence

  9. Sandy continues to be the must baffling, reviewer on the site. Hate to say it, but a stroll through his reviews easily makes one believe he gives bad films good reviews and good to great films bad reviews. Remind you of someone?