In one of the most outrageous Oscar nomination snubs, Robert Redford was criminally excluded from the list of potential Oscar wins for his role in All is Lost, a performance very few actors could have pulled off. We’ve already seen primal stories of survival in hostile environments in Captain Phillips and Gravity but All is Lost distils the concept to its core. This story of a man, staking his claim to existence, as nature (or is it God?) throws every possible obstacle at him is astoundingly held tightly together by one of the best performances I’ve seen in years. The review is short but it’s entirely necessary to keep it spoiler free and to the point.
A man wakes up during his solo voyage in the middle of the Indian Ocean to find his yacht taking on water after a collision with a shipping container.
This is low-key cinema with a good dose of existential philosophy coupled with some serious life or death stakes. This is one of the few films which can be considered off the beaten track but will still attract a large mainstream audience. Whether you’re a Transformers kind of person or a Cinema Nouveau junky, All is Lost is a universal gem and one in a million.
The Bottom Line
We never learn the name of the only character on screen and the credits only identify him as Our Man. Very appropriate for a role taken by Robert Redford. For many years, Redford has been Hollywood’s paragon of masculinity and he’s just as good as ever in J.C. Chandor’s riveting existential film as Our Man tries to traverse the Indian Ocean alone in a wrecked vessel, fighting the elements and maybe even fate itself. We don’t get any backstory on our protagonist but he is clearly a competent, methodical guy as we watch him attempt an ingenious repair job to his damaged vessel after a shipping container filled with shoes punctures the hull. There is no panic and minimal fuss. He must do what he must do. However, one can’t help but be reminded of the film’s title as catastrophes begin to gnaw away at his resolute and steadfast demeanour.
Following a very brief opening voiceover, Our Man only ever speaks again to call for help over a radio and to holler a four-letter obscenity at the sky during a moment when frustration gets the better of him. Otherwise he carries the film with his intelligent, resolved facial expressions and an impressive physicality. Redford performed all stunts himself, many very harrowing. One could call the soundtrack a secondary character in the film because it holds such an incredible presence and is incredibly superb. It is completely contrary to what I would have expected for the film but is also perfectly matched to the tone and atmosphere. It is the initial clue that leads to the realisation that Chandor’s direction is nothing short of utterly unbelievable. In a sense, it’s the simplest thing in storytelling to create a character in peril that an audience can relate to. But to pull it off like this demonstrates astonishing maturity in his craft. If the ending of All is Lost seems straightforward, sleep on it and think again.