All is Lost is about a man alone at sea whose sailboat springs a leak when it hits an adrift cargo container. Through a series of misfortunes, his situation slowly gets worse, despite his every knowledgeable efforts. His tenacious battle to survive as every element turns against him is the crux of this marvellously thrilling movie.
It’s hard to imagine how All is Lost got made. The entire movie takes place at sea, either aboard a sailboat or in a life raft. Only one actor is seen during the entire movie. At 77, that one actor (Robert Redford) is seemingly too old to appeal to younger demographics or to even meet the physical demands required for the movie. It’s only the second movie written and directed by J.C. Chandor. Oh, and outside of 15 seconds of pre-credits voiceover, only two words are spoken during the entire 106 minutes of All is Lost (one of which isn’t suitable for print).
All is Lost is an absolutely riveting movie. Much like Ben Affleck’s improvement between Gone Baby Gone and The Town, J.C. Chandor has gone from a great debut (2011’s Margin Call) to a sophomore masterpiece. His writing is so spare that it’s a shock the few times we actually hear Redford’s voice, yet the action is methodically well-written. The movie is also very effectively shot. There are parts of it that are like Life of Pi, Cast/Away, The Perfect Storm, and Open Water, but All is Lost does each familiar scenario better than its progenitors.
Robert Redford wholly inhabits the nameless protagonist and masterfully emotes decades of experiences and relationships without saying a word. (Just the way he gives himself time to momentarily relax after almost dying before doggedly getting right back up, or the way he slightly rolls his eyes at each cruel twist of fate, says more than pages of dialogue could.) And the ocean in All is Lost is a character itself, with its own temper, generosity, and mercuriality.
It’s fitting that 2013 gave the world both Gravity and All is Lost, as they’re almost companion pieces. Like Gravity, All is Lost paints a gripping tale of one person relentlessly struggling to survive against harsh elements and cruel odds. Also, like Gravity, All is Lost is one of the very best movies of the year.