“There are survivalist tales, and then there’s J.C. Chandor’s rigorous, rugged story of a nameless seafaring man (Robert Redford) trying desperately to save himself as his boat slowly sinks,” begins David Fear in Time Out New York. “Dedicated to authentically depicting nautical know-how (and nearly dialogueless), the director’s follow-up to Margin Call presents one of the most stunning man-versus-nature battles in recent memory—aided by Redford, who gives a career-best performance while barely saying a word.”
For David Thomson, writing in the New Republic, “All Is Lost is amazing, deeply moving, and a harking back to an age when the best mainstream films might be the best pictures America made.” Redford “plays a man sailing a yacht single-handed 1,700 nautical miles from Sumatra. He is broken out of sleep one morning; there is water slapping around in his cabin. His yacht has been hit by a rogue container, a sinister rust-red oblong, a hideous moribund Moby, loaded with running shoes that are now leaking into the still Indian Ocean. (How many of these beasts lurk in the oceans?) Far worse, the container has put a wound in the side of the yacht. If ever the sea gives up its stillness, the boat will flood. The sailor’s radio has been destroyed. His cell phone is waterlogged. He says nothing, but he knows the peril.”
“If, formally speaking, All Is Lost assumes its character’s methodical demeanor, its intermittent use of obvious and subpar CGI undermines its sought-after realism,” finds Nick Schager, writing in Slant. “More problematic is that without any background on Redford’s situation, or on the character himself, the film remains visually up-close-and-personal with its lone subject while consistently operating at a detached remove that frustrates genuine rooting interest in his survival. Nonetheless, by dropping viewers directly into the proceedings and refusing to imbue the material with allegorical socioeconomic concerns, Chandor creates an austere snapshot of human struggle, ingenuity, and perseverance, one that’s predicated on Redford’s fantastic performance.”
Still, for Film Comment‘s Nicolas Rapold, “there remains a nagging feeling that the film’s drama may just be an efficiently executed exercise.”
The New York Times‘ Maureen Dowd profiles Redford, who’s “made a career of playing what he calls ‘intrinsically American guys’ going up against implacable forces: He battled the banks and Pinkertons in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Indians and grizzlies in Jeremiah Johnson, a superficial political system in The Candidate, the Irish mob in The Sting, the C.I.A. in Three Days of the Condor and Spy Game, Richard M. Nixon in All the President’s Men, big business in The Electric Horseman, and, his most formidable adversary, Barbra Streisand, in The Way We Were.” In All Is Lost, he’s “soaring as the solo star of a movie that evokes the elegiac spirit of ‘Sailing to Byzantium,’ by Yeats, one of his favorite poets. Yeats wrote about sailing ‘the mackerel-crowded seas,’ coming to terms with the agony of aging and contemplating how the soul can rise above a heart ‘fastened to a dying animal.'”
New York‘s David Edelstein: “You watch his face and see the wheels turning in his head, see him reviewing his options (the film has almost no dialogue), and think, When has Redford been so riveting? Never. It’s the summation of a lifetime of work.”
Update, 10/11: All Is Lost “might serve as a rebuke to effects-heavy survival stories from the past year like Life of Pi and Gravity,” writes Jesse Hassenger at the L, “except, I’m sorry, call me a philistine, but both of those movies are way better. I know, I know: I’m blinded by the 3D dazzle of well-rendered CG tigers and spaceships. But Ang Lee and Alfonso Cuarón used these high-tech tools with great ingenuity, while the back-to-basics All Is Lost must rely on a lot of familiar peril-at-sea elements: devastating storms, ships passing frustratingly in the distance, limited food and water. (Redford does avoid the survivalist beard; his pre-storm shave is a nicely human detail.) Even if you’re going back to basics, Kon-Tiki went back there earlier this year.”
Update, 10/13: “Face wind-bronzed, hands rope-calloused, hair salt-thickened, Redford is a wonder,” writes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “The film’s scope is limited, but as far as it goes, All Is Lost is very good indeed: a neat idea, very nimbly executed.”
Updates, 10/14: Redford “does more acting in this movie than he has done in all his earlier movies combined,” writes David Denby in the New Yorker. “The anxiety in his eyes as death approaches is unsettling, since it may be something that Redford the man feels, too. His movements become more spasmodic as the character grows weaker, but he’s still quick and capable. At one point, Chandor gives us a heroic image of the sailor at the helm of his craft in the middle of the storm. Heroic, but not hollowly iconic. The movie is too busy attending to Redford’s next task. This is not a contemplative film, even though it (inevitably) asks: What does your existence mean? The answer: You make meaning by doing.”
“Redford has never held the camera as magnificently as he does in the survival-at-sea thriller All Is Lost, and it’s not just because he’s the only person in the movie,” writes New York‘s David Edelstein. “It’s because solitude is his natural state…. [T]he sad truth is that Redford is rarely engaged by other actors. He did gaze with love on Paul Newman, and, in The Way We Were, that force of Jewish nature Barbra Streisand managed to rock his Waspy reticence like the storm surge does in All Is Lost. But in most other films, he looks as if he’s edging for the exit, which is why he was such a nonstarter as Jay Gatsby: He couldn’t project a longing for the woman who’d complete him. Here, it’s that sense of self-sufficiency that will be tested—maybe unto death.”
And Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan gets a few words with Redford.
Update, 10/16: “Though All Is Lost would work without the history he’s accumulated over the course of a lifetime in front of the camera, Redford’s familiarity adds a layer of poignancy,” writes Keith Phipps at the Dissolve. “The audience knows nothing of the man, really, except that he possesses a will to live, and that he’s lived a life of some regrets. That’s enough. Redford and Chandor turn him into a fully fleshed-out character simply by showing him working, struggling, and staving off despair. Like Gravity, to which it compares favorably, it’s a classic tale of survival that draws on how movies, in the right hands, can make viewers see the world through others’ eyes, and to feel what keeps them grasping as it threatens to slip away.”
Updates, 10/18: “The ancient Greeks believed that character should be revealed through action,” writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times. “I can’t think of another film that has upheld this notion so thoroughly and thrillingly.”
“All is Lost is a reaffirmation that Robert Redford is one of cinema’s greatest actors,” writes Ali Arikan at RogerEbert.com, “and an affirmation that Chandor is one of its most promising talents. And it left this reviewer, whose animus towards Margin Call had inspired him to label Chandor as a flash-in-the-pan, utterly humbled.”
“American movies don’t come much bolder than All Is Lost,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the AV Club. It’s “a triumph of dramatic minimalism, making the crutches that screenwriters tend to lean on—expository dialogue, emotional outbursts, and especially the dreaded backstory—seem utterly superfluous. Who is ‘Our Man’? What did he do in life? Why was he out there? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is this moment, and the next moment, and the moment after that.”
“As recently as last year’s The Company You Keep, in which he painfully miscast himself as a former Weather Underground activist on the run, the 77-year-old Redford was playing implausibly younger men,” writes Ella Taylor for NPR. “Here, his weathered face looking like the Grand Canyon, he moves like an old man, accustomed to competence but a touch geezerish, puffing away as he tries to fix every leak, re-establish each malfunctioning connection to the outside world. It’s this that gives Our Man his force, and his aching vulnerability. If weather is the movie’s showier star, Redford’s lack of vanity makes him its taciturn equal.”
It’s a “good” movie, grants Robert Koehler at arts•meme, but he argues that the critics are, for the most part, going overboard.
Matt Mueller talks with Chandor for Thompson on Hollywood.
Update, 10/19: “All Is Lost goes light-to-nonexistent on the macho bluster, and also (happily) eschews the soaring spiritual allegories of Life of Pi,” writes Slate‘s Dana Stevens. “The story, such as it is, lies in the practical day-to-day choices that Redford’s character makes: Should he hang on to that book of instructions for reading the stars with a sextant, or burn it as fuel? Use up the last flare in an attempt to flag a passing ship, or save it for the next ship that comes along? Hovering over all these small questions is one unimaginably huge one, which comes to dominate the film: When is it time to give up?”
Update, 10/20: “I can’t say enough about the rare degree of rigour applied to this more or less mainstream movie,” writes Josef Braun. “All is Lost prizes a truly immersive cinematic experience over cozy tropes. It asks only for the sort of attention one might apply to one’s own solitude.”
Update, 12/1: “Robert Redford is one of the movie stars of our time, yet I would contend that he’s always been an underrated actor.” Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman explains.
Update, 12/23: “Of all the recent extreme-survival narratives in American cinema—from 127 Hours (2010) to Life of Pi (2012) to this year’s Gravity, Captain Phillips, and 12 Years a Slave—All Is Lost has the most powerful sense of inexorability,” writes Adam Nayman for Cinema Scope. “It also happens to be the most accomplished piece of filmmaking on that list by a nautical mile.” Gentle warning: the piece opens with what Nayman calls “not, strictly speaking, a spoiler,” but if you haven’t yet seen the film, you might want to bookmark this one for later.
Updates, 12/25: “When new dangers appear, Redford frowns like a man wondering what those damn kids are doing on his porch rather than someone contending with the reaper,” writes Sophie Monks Kaufman for Little White Lies. “In this lo-fi waterworld, all instruments needed to have been tuned and Redford is a bum note.” Still, she interviews Chandor, as does the Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver.
Updates, 12/26: Redford’s performance “defies known Redfordology,” marvels Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. “Aren’t we used to him—weren’t we used to him—as the actor who doesn’t act?… The minor news is that the 76-year-old did his own action stuff in a non-stop-physical movie. The major news is that he makes us believe everything and care about it…. There was never a good movie made of canonic literature’s lone-man-versus-ocean masterwork, The Old Man and the Sea. Now there doesn’t need to be. Chandor’s movie gives us the Hemingwayish essentials and then some.”
“Does Redford have a teary backstory about a dead infant, à la Sandra Bullock in Gravity?” asks the Telegraph‘s Tim Robey. “Does he heck. The director, J.C. Chandor, knows the temptation to wax maudlin, but he’s written a main character who refuses to do any such thing.”
The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw: “Chandor largely avoids closeups: he keeps his camera away from Redford’s face, as if reluctant to discover his emotions, reluctant to scan his unspeaking star for clues to how he is feeling…. What a strikingly bold and thoughtful film.”
Karen Krizanovich at the Arts Desk: “Redford once said that for all his work with the Sundance Festival, no one ever returned the favor and gave him a job—until now. Chandor, a laudable Sundance darling, has given Redford the role of a lifetime…. Chandor gets the most out of actors. They like him…. He is also a director who loves his audience, rewarding us with arresting visuals and, especially here, incredible audio textures.”
Updates, 1/2: Michael Koresky for Sight & Sound: “Considering Margin Call, one might be tempted to assign a self-lacerating liberal message to All Is Lost, as our man in the east is conspicuously Caucasian, and clearly completely out of his element. Yet for all its gestures towards the political, the film functions best as a pummeling adventure; it’s even less mythic than practical, more Daniel Defoe than Ernest Hemingway.”
“During a recent interview with NPR,” notes Matthew Sorrento in Film International, “Redford noted how he was drawn to what he saw as a ‘pure cinematic experience,’ while knowing the shoot would be brutal (it left him with permanent hearing damage). He said he would do it all again, regardless—what it takes for a one-of-a-kind performance.”
“Ironically, given the abundance of ocean, All is Lost is an entirely depthless drama,” finds the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. “Here is a film that exists purely in the moment, bouncing us inexorably from the bad to the worse. There is no journey towards redemption and no cosy life lesson lying in wait at the end. There’s just the sea and the sky and the struggle to survive. Chandor’s ironclad minimalism has you gasping for air.”
Update, 1/7: “Despite its effortless looks, making the movie was surely no cakewalk,” writes Sarah Salovaara at Filmmaker. “In this behind the scenes video from HitFix, key players including underwater d.p. Peter Zuccarini, production designer John P. Goldsmith and editor Pete Beaudreau discuss their experiences in realizing Chandor’s simplistic yet highly technical vision.”