So the big reoccurring theme in awards season films this year is survival. Gravity began the season with a story of a woman trying to overcome dilemmas in space and get back home. Captain Phillips followed that up with a story of a captain trying to survive the hostage situation he finds himself in. 12 Years a Slave continued with a story of a man trying to find his way back to being a free man after being abducted into slavery (a state of life portrayed as barely living at all). With so many films following such a similar theme (and in many cases, similar story beats) it would be hard to get behind another film this year that had the same theme. That unfortunately puts All is Lost in a bad situation. The technical aspects of the film are amazing, but that’s the same (and even more so the case) with Gravity. It has a powerful lead performance, but so too does 12 Years a Slave. On it’s own All is Lost is a very good film, but it is very hard to fall in love with a film that is so similar to so many films that only just came out in the past few months.
All is Lost follows a man (Robert Redford), who finds his life in peril after an adrift cargo container strikes his yacht. The film is directed and written by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call).
This film is a two-man show. It’s J.C. Chandor and Robert Redford from beginning to end. It’s amazing how long these two are able to maintain the audience’s attention (the film has a runtime over ninety minutes). Chandor’s direction isn’t afraid to be creative despite a lot of the film being filmed out at sea (where it is notoriously difficult to film a movie), and this film proves he is a director to be reckoned with. It’s also quite exciting to see Chandor put so much faith in Redford. Chandor seemed perfectly fine with resting the camera on Redford’s face for long durations of the film, and this does wonders for the film. Redford is an actor capable of doing a lot with very little so these long stretches of just focusing on Redford actually come across not only as natural but also as very revealing.
Other than such a large film being rested upon such a simple story, this film doesn’t really have much else to offer. Everything else that it does we have seen before (and very recently at that). Due to this, the film’s weaknesses seem to be even more glaring. For instance, Murphy’s Law always being applied to the main character is more irritating here than it was in Gravity(it also helped that the film’s ambitiousness helped to mask that problem in the latter). The same can be said with the bits of melodrama that are thrown out of nowhere into the closing moments of this film. Something similar also happens in Gravity, but Alfonso Cuaron adds it in much more deftly than this film does.
In a year filled with very good survival dramas, All is Lost just happens to be the weakest of the best.