Review: ‘All Is Lost’ (2013)

by K.M. Zahrt

All is LostThe 2013 film All Is Lost, written and directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call 2011) and starring Robert Redford, focuses on a lone, modern-day sailor whose boat collides with a wayward shipping container in the middle of the ocean. The film centers on the sailor’s efforts to save himself and his boat through increasingly challenging circumstances.

By now, it’s safe to say that the film was a flop, even though it was nominated for an Academy Award and two Golden Globes (winning one). But, it was nominated for Best Original Sound Editing and won the Golden Globe for Best Original Score – Motion Picture. Work in these categories can be outstanding without amounting to a great film.

Most of the buzz surrounding the promotion of the film was that Robert Redford was alone on a sinking ship for the entire film. We’ve seen this model before: accomplished actor + all alone + extreme survival situation = successful film. It worked for Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000), for James Franco in 127 Hours (2010), and for Sandra Bullock in Gravity (also from 2013).

So Robert Redford, who was superb in films like The Great Gatsby (1974) and Spy Game (2001), starring in something like Cast Away on a sailboat should be good, right? Unfortunately, the acting is weak, which is a huge problem from the films only actor. Often Redford seems to be consciously trying to act as if he was alone, which makes the viewer conscious of the same thing.

In addition, the problems the sailor faces in a sailboat with a hole in the side are predictable. The only thing that isn’t predictable is how poorly this “experienced” sailor responds. In fact, his sub-par sailing performance is so blatant that sailing enthusiasts couldn’t help themselves from compiling a list of errors on IMDB.

Here are two examples:

“It is not really correct to call ‘SOS’ on the marine emergency radio channel. ‘Mayday’ or ‘Pan Pan’ would be accurate and standard forms whereas ‘SOS’ will be understood but is incorrect. A veteran sailor would never have made this mistake.”

“When ‘Our Guy’ (Redford) uses the radio, he tries to speak in the wrong side of the handheld microphone. He tries to talk into the metal latch, covering up the actual microphone opening with his hand. Any experienced seaman would never make this error.”

Although the crew list shows a “life raft consultant” and a “marine electronics consultant,” perhaps an experienced-sailor-who-has-survived-a-shipwreck consultant would have been advised. On the up side, this could make the film watchable for a different reason, as a game: see how many mistakes you can spot, and check your answers online. Maybe there’s a chance of this film surviving yet, as a good bad movie.

In the end (spoiler alert, although the film’s ending was the real spoiler), a mysterious and unidentified hand reaches into the water and rescues the sailor at what seems to be the final point of no return. This contradicts the fatalistic promise of the title — All Is Lost — and it feels cheap, as if to say, “And he was rescued, and everyone lived happily ever after.”

But, considering that IMDB reports the production budget at an estimated $9 million and Box Office Mojo lists the lifetime grosses of the film at a little more than $6.2 million — yes, in fact, all is lost.

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