Eight days ago this elderly but still physically fit man (Robert Redford) was aboard his sailing boat in the Indian Ocean when he suffered a mishap as something hit the hull. On investigation, a large container which had fallen off one of the cargo ships that pass through the area had struck it and made a sizeable hole, leaving the man pondering his next move. He decided to tie a sea anchor to the container to dislodge it from his boat, which worked well enough, then he untied it from the large metal box and reboarded his craft, but that left the problem of what to do about the hole. He had been careless in leaving various possessions, including communications, around inside which were now waterlogged, but there were signs he had not been prepared...
Not prepared for what eventually happened, anyway, as if the never named man had set out to sea without making the proper arrangements in a manner suggesting he never thought something might go wrong. There were some viewers who had issues with the protagonist's lack of seaworthiness, yet given writer and director J.C. Chandor had not offered any details about him whatsoever, we could only speculate as to what had brought him to such circumstances. There was a reason for that, which was to portray star Redford in an everyman role, and one thing that comes to every man (and woman) is inevitable.
It doesn't matter how you try to avoid it or stave it off, death looms over us all, even more the further into life you get, and with Redford presumably playing a character of the same age as he was - mid-seventies - he wasn't going to be around quite as long as a man a fraction of his age. With that in mind, there were those who regarded All Is Lost as a spiritual journey, and the ending was certainly open to interpretation in its ambiguous fashion, with either explanation making sense in light of what we had seen before. Redford was giving nothing away in a performance of great physicality for a star of his advancing years, putting many a younger actor to shame with his exertions.
There were comparisons made between this and the other major one person survival movie out the same year in Gravity, and though this was lower budget the achievement in the technical arena was no less impressive for the resources Chandor had within his means. Sandra Bullock at least had George Clooney to chat with, but Redford had no one, and hardly any dialogue passes his lips other than a brief try at a Mayday over his faltering radio and the odd shout for help when someone goes near enough to hear him. Therefore his practically silent performance relied almost entirely on his body language, which saw the star offer some of his finest work at a point in his career when he could have easily have been coasting or even retiring: it was comparable to Bruce Dern in Nebraska.
They were different actors, of course, Redford a consistent leading man and Dern a character performer, but Dern was offered an Oscar nomination while Redford was not, which had fans of the underseen All Is Lost disappointed. You could view this as the megastar equivalent of one of those stranded in the ocean movies of the previous decade like Open Water or Adrift where the cast were left to depict the struggles for survival in the vast, empty (aside from the wildlife) expanse of sea, though a more apt comparison could have been the Spencer Tracy film of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, which similarly relied on the celebrity wattage of an ageing thesp. As the calamities mount up with the Redford character getting further out of his depth, so to speak, the allegory of how we try to keep going through our existences against odds increasingly stacked against us grows harder to ignore, yet this was no dry philosophical tract - it couldn't be with all that liquid in every scene - as it was a genuinely tense experience. Maybe a little pat at the end, but absorbing while it was playing. Music by Alex Ebert.