DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
The ocean scares the crap out of me. It holds more secrets than answers and harnesses a power within its tempestuous nature that should be treated with the greatest of respect.
All is Lost is Everyman at sea. Its minimalistic nature and simple story of survival are like the iceberg that sank that other ship in that it holds a lot more body under the surface than it initially shows up top. At least, that's what I think, it could just literally be The Old Man and the Sea.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that it shares that novel's allegorical nature, but to me it did feel like Our Guy's struggles were figuratively about the inevitability of life closing in on you no matter how hard you fight it. After all, life is an uphill battle of which we all know the end. And on the other hand it seems to be a lesson of humility. Our Guy is sailing on his own, but he clearly isn't a sailor. He's resourceful, sure, and when the water around him is calm he is fine. But when he hits a bump, we can clearly see he is out if his depth. To me it felt like he almost arrogantly underestimated the force of nature around him.
We get no backstory whatsoever which actually adds to the experience of watching this extraordinary film. The opening lines seem to immediately put things in perspective. It starts with an apology, an apology to people in his life, an apology you and I could write when we reach the end. He feels the necessity to atone for something. What that is, we don't know, nor do we need to. Starting with the end and hearing what will transpire has caused him to say immediately instills the film with a certain inescapable doom. This man will suffer. Why, we don't know, but I decided to listen back those opening lines after finishing the film and that makes it clear that he feels that he has deserved it somehow, but still fought against the odds to make amends and to (literally) keep his head above water.The ending is open to debate, something I'll gladly do in the comment section below.
J.C. Chandor has crafted a superb film. It looks and sounds amazing, but its true strength lies in its narrow focus in a huge scope. Practically no dialogue, hardly any music, just bare bone filmmaking betraying an impressive amount of skill. And tagging along with him is a man who deserves all our respect. Robert Redford is simply breathtaking. The amount of restraint he puts in his acting here is truly admirable, blowing away practically all male performances of last year. His acting is small, tiny, barely noticeable increasing its effectiveness tenfold. He made his suffering mine, making this a truly immersive and sometimes agonizing watch.
All is Lost grabbed me, didn't let go and left me in awe. Contemplative and harrowing, symbolic and metaphorical. Or just a story about a guy on a boat. I am sure of one thing though and that is that it is a stunning piece of filmmaking.