Esteban Gonzalez’s review published on Letterboxd:
"I fought 'til the end, I'm not sure what this worth, but know that I did."
All is Lost is writer/director J.C. Chandor's second film, following Margin Call which garnered him an Academy Award nomination for his original screenplay and put him in the map as a breakthrough filmmaker. Margin Call was full of great dialogues and fun characters, but Chandor completely changed his approach in All is Lost by focusing solely on one character who barely says anything at all. This is basically a silent film that focuses on one character and it completely relies on his performance alone. This is an experimental and simplistic survival film, but one that worked for me thanks to Robert Redford's powerful performance. Comparisons to Gravity are unavoidable considering they are both survival stories, but the approach was completely different. In Gravity we have plenty of dialogues and backstories allowing us to get to know who the main character is, but in All is Lost we don't know anything about this man (not even his name), but somehow both manage to engage the audience through different techniques. Gravity relied on its spectacular visuals, and All is Lost relied almost entirely on Robert Redford. The will to survive is part of our human nature and therefor it's easy to root for this guy despite not knowing anything about him. His struggle for survival against nature is something we all can relate to. Redford delivers a solid performance through his physical presence; his eyes and facial expressions say so much more than words.
J.C. Chandor can bet he won't receive another nomination for his screenplay considering he only had to write a few lines for this film. The film won't get a supporting actor nod either since this is only a one man show. The only character in this film is an unnamed man played by Robert Redford who in the midst of a solo voyage through the Indian Ocean on his beautiful yacht wakes up one day to find that it has taken water after a collision with a shipping container. As his yacht begins to flood he loses his radio equipment and so his struggle for survival begins as he faces all sorts of odds in the midst of the vast and dangerous waters. It is him against nature, and his only companions are the living creatures under the sea.
Don't be fooled by the minimalistic and boring premise because this is a highly entertaining and well crafted film. I was at the edge of my seat for most of the 95 minutes as Redford continued to battle nature and face the immensity of the sea. Despite being predictable at times I still was engaged and highly anticipating what was coming next hoping he would defy all odds and survive. What All is Lost does best and ultimately separates itself from other survival films is that it touches more on the isolation theme. Like the main character we are sucked into his isolated world and it's us against the sea. Having no backstories or any other characters around allows us to experience this isolation and silence first hand. This was a very risky film to make but the experiment worked well for Chandor and it pays off. I also loved the ending of this film and I believe it allows for differing viewpoints. It was very symbolic. The score of this film composed by Alex Ebert was also quite breathtaking and perhaps key for a film that relied almost entirely on Redford's physical performance. This is as close as it gets to Hemingway's novel The Old Man and the Sea. It is a gripping adventure story about one man's refusal to die. This one man show might be demanding for audiences, but it is very much worth the ride.