I’m known for liking experimental films that sacrifice entertainment value in order to explore something interesting. I knew what I was getting into when I sat down to watch All is Lost, a film featuring Robert Redford trapped on a sinking boat. I expected to see largely only Redford on screen for the entire film, and I even expected some stretches to be uneventful. But what I didn’t expect was that I would be bored to death for the entire duration, only to have the film conclude itself in the worst way imaginable.
All is Lost sets itself up to be a bold and brave opus; it opens with Redford reading the final words he will ever write. In a message addressed to people unknown, he apologizes for regrets and sins we know nothing about. This is an examination of the human will to survive, which is always an interesting topic for art to explore.
I love the idea of watching a man alone in the middle of the sea, facing the reality that he will die alone, all the while battling against the inevitable. Instead we were given a film with a Hollywood star lost at sea; a man so beloved that we could watch him do anything for hours and enjoy it — or so director J.C. Chandor hoped. But the truth is, if it wasn’t Robert Redford in this movie, All is Lost would be seen for what it is: a boring film with a cop-out ending, relying entirely on the love of its only actor to sell you on itself.
Admittedly, Chandor is a very talented filmmaker. There are moments during All is Lost that I thought were brilliant in terms of photography and direction. But honestly, much of the film was bland even on a visual level, largely because it’s difficult to constantly come up with creative ways to shoot Redford patching a hole in his boat.
Things do happen during the course of the movie, one after the other in fact. In one scene Redford runs out of water and needs a solution. In another scene his radio doesn’t work. In the next scene he attempts without success to pump water out of his boat. All the while he rarely even speaks, with some camera shots solely focused on him sleeping. Again, it’s a good thing it’s Robert Redford in this boat and not just some dude, because otherwise that type of thing would never fly.
All is Lost is a snoozer of a film with an ending written for an audience with irrational expectations. It’s a failed experiment, one that attempts to woo the art crowd with its approach, all the while looking for a way to make people who paid for Robert Redford tickets happy. Every moment that passes I sat expecting more, but as I continued to watch it became increasingly obvious that I had been taken hostage. Undoubtedly more scenes featuring Redford eating canned beans were in the hopper, but the payoff that would make my boredom worthwhile was never going to come.