Review – All Is Lost

More than anything, dialogue played a crucial role in transforming J.C. Chandor’s financial crisis drama Margin Call into a gripping and intelligent debut feature.

All Is Lost is cinema in its purest form, a visual poem of hope, despair, strength and weakness that will wash over you like a warm tide

All Is Lost is cinema in its purest form, a visual poem of hope, despair, strength and weakness that will wash over you like a warm tide

Conversely, in Chandor’s compelling and very moving follow-up, All Is Lost, it’s actions rather than words that drive the narrative forwards and give the film its raw, physical power.

What links both films are the sky-high stakes – livelihoods are on the line in Margin Call, while a man’s life hangs precariously in the balance in All Is Lost. Robert Redford plays the unnamed near-ancient mariner whose solo sailing journey turns into a desperate fight for survival when a stray shipping container rips a hole in the side of his boat.

The calm before the storm in All Is Lost

The calm before the storm in All Is Lost

A brutal storm turns a bad situation into something far worse and, still 1,700 miles from land and without any working means of communication, Redford’s mariner (described as “Our Man” in the closing credits) must rely on his resourcefulness and dwindling resolve if he has any hope of survival.

Redford’s casting is a masterstroke on Chandor’s part. An icon of cinema for five decades, Redford was the anti-establishment pin-up respected by the establishment, who has often been at his best playing mysterious loners.

The full scale of the problems for Robert Redford's unnamed protagonist emerge in All Is Lost

The full scale of the problems for Robert Redford’s unnamed protagonist emerge in All Is Lost

Far from resting on his laurels, All Is Lost is arguably the 77-year-old’s most daring and challenging role to date. Few actors are as intriguing to watch as Redford and, with little or no dialogue to get in the way, it frees him up to act with his gut.

It’s a brave and entirely naturalistic performance and takes the actor to places we’ve never seen him go before. Picture Redford and the Sundance Kid or Jay Gatsby will likely spring to mind – a fresh-faced icon of cinema. But here, that familiar shock of blonde hair is greying at the sides, while the physical disintegration he goes through over the course of the film is alarming. The film may take place over the course of eight days, but Redford appears to age several decades.

The storm hits hard in All Is Lost

The storm hits hard in All Is Lost

Although few words are spoken, sound plays an integral role in the film. We know the groaning, snapping sound that starts the movie spells big trouble for Our Man, while the terrible cacophony of the storm feels like a punishment for unexplained past deeds. Likewise, Alex Ebert’s elemental score drifts in and out of the film and never once tries to get in the way of the drama.

Things go from bad to worse for our nameless sailor in All Is Lost

Things go from bad to worse for our nameless sailor in All Is Lost

The title of the film derives from Redford’s opening voiceover (which accounts for almost all of the dialogue), wherein he seeks forgiveness from an unnamed person, presumably his wife and/or family (a wedding ring is pretty much the only back story we get for his character), before concluding that “all is lost”.

As to whether all is indeed lost come the ambiguous ending and the cut to white is clearly open to interpretation, but it’s worth playing over in your mind what Our Man has been forced to endure throughout his ordeal before making a final judgement.

All Is Lost is cinema in its purest form, a visual poem of hope, despair, strength and weakness that will wash over you like a warm tide.

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32 comments

  1. jjames36 · January 20, 2014

    Good review. I largely agree.

  2. Joseph@thecinemamonster · January 20, 2014

    Stellar review, bud, absolutely spot-on. I loved this flick as well, and everything about it. The music, the scenery, the story and Redford’s performance. Completely agree that this is Redford’s most daring, respectable role to date :).

    • Three Rows Back · January 20, 2014

      Thanks man. I think Redford, and the film, were robbed a bit in the Oscar noms to be honest. Really pleased you loved it too mate.

  3. ruth · January 20, 2014

    WOW, such a high praise Mark. I was impressed by Margin Call so I was surprised he made this one as it’s such a different genre and style. I just saw a classic film from the 70s w/ Redford this weekend, sounds like he’s definitely still got it. He’s the ultimate leading man so I’m curious to check this out when this is out on rental.

    • Three Rows Back · January 20, 2014

      I think/hope you’ll enjoy it Ruth. Out of interest, which Redford film did you just watch?

      • ruth · January 20, 2014

        I was just about to post it on my Weekend’s Roundup, so I’ll let you guess and see if you get it right. Just a hint: it’s a slow-burn thriller 😉

        P.S. Check your Twitter DM

      • Three Rows Back · January 21, 2014

        Thank you for the Reddit thumbs up Ruth! Three Days of the Condor, eh? Top movie!

  4. CMrok93 · January 20, 2014

    Good review. Redford truly was amazing here and it’s a damn shame that he didn’t get a nomination at all for this. However, it was a tough year and I guess he was expendable? I mean, I guess a legend like him is considered that now, sadly.

    • Three Rows Back · January 21, 2014

      Thanks Dan. I genuinely thought Redford would get an Oscar nom as it’s a brilliant performance. You’re right though, there have been some extraordinary performances this year.

  5. keith7198 · January 21, 2014

    Loved “All is Lost”! It is such a contrast from Margin Call, a film I wasn’t crazy about. But this one was mesmerizing. And what a great performance from Redford.

    • Three Rows Back · January 21, 2014

      Absolutely. A career best I would say. I loved this just as much as Margin Call 🙂

  6. Beer Movie · January 21, 2014

    Great review mate. Really not sure when (if?) this is getting a proper cinema release out here. It did play a few festivals last year but I never managed to catch it. Would really love to take a look at it on the big screen.

    • Three Rows Back · January 21, 2014

      It’s well well worth it. That being said, I don’t think it’ll lose much on DVD. Hope you can catch it soon.

      • Beer Movie · January 27, 2014

        Ok cool. Thanks for that, worth knowing that it will still hold up ok on a smaller screen. I think I did see a cinema release date the other day, so should still hopefully catch it that way.

  7. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · January 21, 2014

    Fine review as always Mark. I missed this at cinemas unfortunately as there was just too much else out, but I’ll definitely keep my eyes open when it’s on Blu-ray.

    • Three Rows Back · January 21, 2014

      Thank you Chris. It won’t lose anything on Blu-Ray, I’m pretty sure of that.

  8. ckckred · January 21, 2014

    Nice review. Yet another movie I need to see, especially since I very much enjoyed Margin Call.

    • Three Rows Back · January 21, 2014

      Thanks buddy. I loved Margin Call too. This is a very different film, but I think/hope you’ll love it.

  9. chris2508 · January 22, 2014

    Brilliant review. I have to see this film, sounds so interesting with its’s lack of dialogue and of course it stars Robert Redford.

    • Three Rows Back · January 22, 2014

      Very kind of you to say my friend, thank you. It really is well worth it and Redford is sublime.

  10. Lights Camera Reaction · January 24, 2014

    The score to this film is lovely, one of my favourites. I didn’t like All is Lost as much as you, but it was still enjoyable and very thought provoking.

    • Three Rows Back · January 24, 2014

      Thanks for the feedback. Yeah, it’s a great score, one that flows through the movie like a dream.

  11. Tom · January 24, 2014

    An absolutely terrific write-up dude. Wow. This is the strongest argument for the film I’ve read (and granted I haven’t read a massive amount on it, but still. . .) but yet I still felt All is Lost was more pretentious than anything else. I couldn’t get into it. But cheers to this review man, this is superbly written and the bit about the storm being a potential comeuppance for any past misdeed Our Man may have caused was especially insightful.

    • Three Rows Back · January 24, 2014

      Thanks so much Tom. I really enjoy reading your considered feedback! I guess I can see why you’d think it pretentious. I don’t know, I just loved it; it’s pure cinema in my book and I feel we need more of stuff like this. That’s my two cents. By the way, I’ve uploaded your Matilda review on Reddit. Do you use it?

      • Tom · January 25, 2014

        Oh for sure, the film seemed to divide critics quite evenly, which always makes those kinds of films more interesting I think. Perhaps it needs a second viewing for me to truly appreciate the silence. I did think a few scenes were staggeringly brilliant, and the transition into the life raft was quite something.

        I actually do have a Reddit account, but I don’t know how to use that site at all haha. Thanks for doing that, if you could let me in on some hints about how that site works that’d be helpful! 😀

  12. Dan · January 25, 2014

    Great piece. This wasn’t really on my radar to see but it sounds far better than I was expecting. Has Robert Redford still got it – on this evidence, he certainly has! 🙂

    • Three Rows Back · January 25, 2014

      Thanks very much Dan. It’s well worth a couple of hours of your time. I’ve always had a lot of time for Redford and he’s fantastic here.

  13. Mark Walker · January 25, 2014

    Excellent write-up Mark. I should be catching this soon. I loved margin Call and Redford is always appealing. Sounds like an very interesting role for him.

    • Three Rows Back · January 25, 2014

      Would love to know what you think of this. It’s a big ask of Redford but I feel he pulls it off with aplomb. Thanks for the kind words Mark 🙂

  14. table9mutant · January 26, 2014

    Great review. : ) I really should check this one out…

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