All is Lost (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions, PG-13)


All-is-Lost 75There’s a certain contingent of the audience that will probably really like this film (that contingent being older men who like boats).

All-is-Lost 500

Writer/director J.C. Chandor made his name on the 2011 film Margin Call, which was a fictionalized account of the financial meltdown of 2008. It seemed like most critics really loved that movie, but in real life I knew a handful of people who just absolutely despised it; meanwhile, I was almost completely indifferent to it. And now Chandor’s produced his follow-up, All is Lost, which in most ways is the polar opposite of Margin Call, film-wise; Margin Call had a large ensemble cast and was basically wall-to-wall dialogue, and All is Lost literally has only one person onscreen in total in its 106-minute running time, and all of the lines of dialogue could fit in the film’s trailer, with several minutes to spare.

The one person we see in All is Lost is played by Robert Redford, playing a character who’s never named (given that there’s never anyone else on screen to address him) and who is listed in the credits as “Our Man.” He’s off the coast of the Indian Ocean alone on a yacht, and suffers a series of mishaps. The big one is that his yacht runs into a shipping container (filled with children’s shoes, we learn in the most haunting shot in the film), which punctures a hole in the side. Our Man is getting old but is far from helpless, and he’s able to repair the hole, but this is one of those films where one bad thing after another begins happening to the main character. Echoing the minimalism of the film, it isn’t long before Redford finds himself aimlessly adrift on an inflatable raft, running out of food and flares and hope for survival.

It seems like it bears mentioning that in the general sense I don’t get the boat thing and don’t really care; we’re talking about in life here, and not just in this movie. But that leaves me with a bunch of questions: Why is Redford out off the coast of the Indian Ocean in the first place? Especially alone? How dire is it if there’s a giant hole in your boat; i.e. how long do you have? Etc. That is to say, there’s a certain contingent of the audience that will probably really like this film (that contingent being older men who like boats), but I’m not really its target audience, and it isn’t a good enough film to bridge that gap and make me interested.

And like Margin Call, where I’m left indifferent to the film, it seems like most reviewers are pretty ecstatic about it, particularly in regards to Robert Redford’s performance, which is already being viewed as a lock for a nomination in the Best Actor category at this year’s Oscars. I’m not saying that’s not going to happen, but I am totally unswayed by his performance; like the rest of the world I like Bob Redford, but here he lets the seams show too much, and sometimes his performance goes so far as to feel hammy, especially when juxtaposed against the aforementioned minimalism of the film. | Pete Timmermann

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