All Is Lost Movie Review (2013) - Can't Stop the Movies
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All Is Lost (2013)

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All Is Lost


All the basic facts you need going into J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost have been written about already. This is a mostly silent movie, with the exception of a monologue at the beginning and 2 other instances where less than a sentence is uttered. The only person we ever see onscreen is Robert Redford, whose character is never named (he's in the credits as “Our Man”). As the movie opens, Our Man wakes up in his small yacht to water flooding in through a hole in the hull, finding that he's collided with a floating shipping container on some unnamed ocean, and quietly, resolutely gets to work fixing his ship.

I think hull is the right term here. What would you call a wall above the stove in a yacht's kitchen? Doesn't matter—most of the movie is spent watching Our Man move about his ship in silence, calmly (at first) making corrections, altering his course, and fixing the hole. He ties ropes and marks maps and, at one point, connects what looks like a car battery to the highest points of one of the... sail posts (masts?). I don't know anything about sailing, and I didn't learn it from this movie. And that's ok, because Chandor and Redford have managed to make what sounds on paper like an excruciating seafaring version of watching your dad put a bunch of furniture together into a fairly captivating hour-and-a-half of a man struggling to keep his resolve in increasingly dire circumstances.

Redford Looking Out to Sea

Our Man seems to know exactly how to respond to disaster when it initially strikes.

A lot of the first half reminded me of the first two Ramin Bahrani films. I remember watching the first 15 minutes of Man Push Cart, where the only things happening onscreen are a man's routine getting his food cart ready, setting up on a New York street, and serving customers, and my girlfriend saying at some point “I don't know why, but I feel like I could watch this for hours.” Bahrani has a way of making work seem like a desperately important narrative, and Chandor does the same here, but with an intense undercurrent of dread. The title of the movie, pulled from the opening voice-over, is All Is Lost—so you know how things are going to go. At times, the movie plays like an extended reading of an elegantly delivered letter—it arrives on thick stationary, sealed with wax, written in swirly calligraphy, and it reads STAY OUT OF THE GODDAMN OCEAN.

Our Man Watches His Boat Sink

Our Man wants kids to know that the ocean only ends in sadness.

Redford's character, as I mentioned, is called Our Man, and that seems right. It's a Hemmingway-esque designation, and so much of the movie is about seeing past the plain-stated surface to the humanity underneath. Redford is tremendous here, first presenting himself as a man with enough knowledge of sailing to recognize that his situation is serious but not critical. We are lulled into a sense of false comfort by the way he deliberately repairs his ship and attempts to hail others on his on-board radio at first.

Then it becomes apparent, through events I won't spoil, that his situation is much more dire. There are several scenes where Our Man observes a distinct and serious change in his situation, and his reaction, even at the most intense, is bafflingly subdued. The monologue that opens All Is Lost sets the stage for the slow descent we're about to witness, and the tone is more of regret than panic. “I'm sorry,” he says multiple times throughout, and we suspect as the events of the movie unfold that Our Man's struggle is less against the elements than whatever aspects of his life he was taking refuge from, alone in his boat on the sea, in the first place.

Sharks Circling Liferaft

Really can't stress enough how dangerous the ocean is here.

The major accomplishment here is how Chandor (a director no one had heard of 3 years ago) and Redford (an actor who hasn't done anything significant since Lions for Lambs?—haha, j/k way before that) managed to make the process of such a struggle something that so subtly encompasses the meaning of the struggle itself. But the lasting value comes in the later scenes. As I said before, we all know where this is going, but the final 20 minutes or so get there in a way that is both heartbreaking and profound, and there's a surprisingly formalistic beauty to the final frames that is key. You can interpret those last shots in (I think) exactly two ways, and the most interesting question the movie prompts is whether, in the context of a narrative like this, it matters which one you choose.

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Tail - All Is LostAll Is Lost (2013)

Directed by J.C. Chandor.
Screenplay written by J.C. Chandor.
Starring Robert Redford.

Posted by Kyle Miner

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Good review Kyle. Redford truly was amazing here and it was a honest surprise that he didn’t get nominated. A damn shame, too.

    • After watching the movie I was surprised too. I wasn’t necessarily surprised at any of those who did make it in, and if Bale was an “upset” for American Hustle as so many people seemed to think then I’d say it was an even trade, but it still would have been nice to see Redford get a nod.

  2. Nice review. I really enjoyed this film. When I watched this film in the cinema the ending clearly irritated quite a few people. But, like The Grey, the film is better for this ambiguity. To borrow from an old saying, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

    • The Grey is a great comparison to draw here I think —— both movies about people vs. nature, both about people trying to find reasons to survive, both make that process more important than the end result. That’s a great point!

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