I've heard people say that Gravity was "Open Water in space", so does that make All Is Lost "Gravity in the ocean?" Or is it "Open Water hung out with Gravity, got drunk, and nine months later All Is Lost was born?" If so, are they still together, or do they share joint custody?
You're likely going to see a lot of comparisons to Gravity in this review. Like your inevitable turn to the Dark Side, it's unavoidable, as there are many similarities. It also doesn't help that they came out roughly the same time. I apologize in advance if it gets a little annoying though.
I don't have a ton to say about All Is Lost, as it's a good example of limited storytelling. There's virtually no dialog, only one character and we never learn his name. It doesn't waste any time getting to the catalyst of his predicament either. When sailing in the Indian Ocean, the man with no name (Robert Redford) is stirred by a random shipping container colliding with his sailboat. He's able to dislodge from the container and eventually patch the hole, but this is just the beginning. As his navigation equipment and radio were destroyed, he's unable to contact anyone for help, and has to rely on his instincts to survive.
Unfortunately for the Old Man at Sea, nearly everything that can go wrong does. He runs into several storms, the boat capsizes, he's thrown overboard, and the boat eventually sinks. After abandoning ship, his bad luck continues. It would be easier to list all the things that go right for him, which is to say nothing. When he manages to get into a shipping lane and Maersk cargo ship passes him, I could only wonder what the Old Man did to piss off Captain Phillips so much. Does Tom Hanks have a secret beef with Redford?
All Is Lost is an example of a film where I can praise it for it's performance and recognize its technical merits, but somehow came away from it feeling cold. I even had a hard time saying whether or not I liked it right after. While just as dire, Gravity is more of an exciting thrill ride, compared to the bleak tone of All Is Lost. Even the music, which I found repetitive, seemed to be saying "all is lost". It's still an intense experience though, and right up until the very end you don't know how it's going to turn out.
I'm not sure why it didn't totally work for me. Perhaps it is due to seeing a glut of intense films about struggle lately. It may just be due to the fact that I don't find sailing all that interesting. I find it a little crazy that someone would sail in the middle of the ocean by himself. That's related to another thing that bugged me in the early part of the film. I didn't see much urgency on the part of the Old Man. He moved very deliberately, and while I understand the need for caution, I couldn't help think, "maybe you should do this a little faster." Once he patches the ship, he seemed to sail aimlessly, where I would have immediately headed towards help or safety. Even though he sees the first storm coming, he didn't appear prepared for it. Take this all with a grain of salt though. I'm not a sailor, and you wouldn't get me out on a sailboat in the first place. I'd rather repair a satellite in Earth's orbit than sail on the high seas.
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, this is much different film from his first offering, Margin Call, which I was a big fan of. Where Margin Call was a dialogue heavy film, All Is Lost is more of a meditation about a man struggling to survive against the elements. It bodes well for his future that his first two films are so dissimilar.
I don't think the film would have worked as well if it wasn't anchored (pun intended) by a great performance from Robert Redford. It's a lesson in how to convey thought and emotion with just subtle glances and body language. People that complained that Sandra Bullock's character talked to herself too much in Gravity will likely appreciate the contrast here. Personally, I talk to myself all the time, so I identified a little more with Sandra Bullock's performance, but that's not to take anything away from Redford's. I'm sure Redford will get some Oscar consideration, but it's already shaping up to be a crowded field this year, with favorites already appearing.
All Is Lost is a film that definitely lives up to its name. While its gloomy tone left me feeling a bit cold by the end, it's a well-crafted and intense film. It's also a testament to Robert Redford's ability to captivate an audience without saying anything. It's definitely worth a watch if it's available in a theater near you.
4 (out of 5) Death Stars