“All Is Lost”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


“All Is Lost” is like “The Old Man and the Sea” without the fish. Robert Redford, who in the credits is referred to as “Our Man,” floats around in a damaged boat looking grave and portentous as one damn hardship after another descends from the heavens. Is the movie a comedy of cosmic misfortune or are we supposed to root for this guy? Investing in existential flimflammery, writer-director J.C. Chandor refuses to give the character purpose or clearly defined goals. Odysseus at least yearned for home; Our Man’s too angsty to admit even to that. Though Redford’s struggles seem intended to pit human will against the inscrutability of the universe, his own inscrutability invalidates the equation. Watching him is like watching a hamster spin endlessly on a wheel: you feel bad for the little guy, but then again he’s just a fucking hamster.

A director like Robert Bresson might have succeeded in drawing something out of this material, might have milked transcendence from the details of raw process. What milk there is in “All Is Lost” Chandor merely churns into Oscar butter. The director’s feel for cramped spaces and flinty tonalities isn’t enough to compensate for his failure (or is it unwillingness?) to connect the individual plot points in a way that would give them urgency and meaning. Redford’s climbing the mast to plug in some unexplained doohicky, his flopping beneath the waves to attend to some other doohicky, his futzing with a fritzy radio — all of it lacks the cause-and-effect context needed to generate identification and suspense. This may explain the IMDb reports of audiences laughing at Redford’s predicament: absent suspense, this kind of thing easily slips into comedy. Eventually, Redford’s whipping at the hands of chance seems as ludicrous as the spectacle of Laurel and Hardy repeatedly failing to push a piano up a long flight of stairs. What can you do but laugh?

Though he’s never been the warmest of actors, it’s surprising just how hermetic Redford is here. He looks like human driftwood and he acts like it too, his eyes reflecting near-deadness even as he gives what is, by old man standards, a very physical performance. I fear his resignation, and Chandor’s validation of it, speaks to some larger contemporary malaise, one not transformed by the movie’s final image, in which Michelangelo’s hand of God is appropriated for a banal, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style toss-up between surrender and salvation.


About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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11 Responses to “All Is Lost”

  1. The single-character-no-dialogue thing might be a little gimmicky, but I enjoyed this. Have you seen GRAVITY? It’s similar to this movie in many ways and I recall some critics saying the protagonist’s purpose/context (dealing with the death of her child) was unnecessary. Or maybe those critics thought the dead kid thing was corny, I dunno.


    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      I didn’t have a problem with the no-talking thing. I mostly didn’t think his actions were framed in a way that made any sense, narratively. He does a lot of monkeying with gizmos for which the audience has no context, and none of his actions are followed through in a way that expands the narrative. At the start of the movie his boat gets a hole punched in it, and he laboriously fixes it. Then the whole boat is destroyed by a storm, making the hole irrelevent to the overall story. They could have simply started the movie with the storm. That kind of disconnectedness is problematic in a movie like this, where the goal is to involve you in the guy’s story, to slowly build tension and suspense. I kept thinking: What’s that nautical thingie supposed to do? Why’s he climbing up there? What’d he just plug in? What’s his overall strategy? Eventually he just ends up floating. Why am I watching Robert Redford floating around and looking sorry for himself? Is it a (gulp) metaphor? I suspect that, at some level, Chandor thinks the purposelessness of all this is noble or something. I just found it boring, even a little silly. And Redford’s performance doesn’t invite sympathy or even understanding. He’s just grim and tuckered. Blech. Not my type of thing at all.


    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      I haven’t seen “Gravity.”


  2. Gavin Bledsoe says:

    Have not been interested, after listening%watching reviews, still not interested.


  3. I enjoyed it more than you, but not as much as my friend who actually knows a lot about sailing. He was engrossed. All the ‘dohickeys’, I guess, made sense to him and did provide more of a narrative.

    Interestingly (maybe only to me), my wife thought the opposite of you about Redford’s performance. She thought he *over*acted. Me, I am not as discerning a consumer of acting as either of you, so I just thought he was good.


    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      I don’t think he’s bad, really. Just pretty closed off. I think you’re supposed to be thinking along with him, but I didn’t get that out of the performance — in part because I couldn’t tell what he was trying to accomplish most of the time. Mostly I kept thinking, “this poor old bastard.” When the one big emotional release came, when he starts crying and yelling to the heavens, I and the folks I was watching it with all started to laugh.


    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      Gotta have respect for the physicality of RR’s perf, though. Especially at 78 or whatever he is now.


  4. fenster says:

    “Watching him is like watching a hamster spin endlessly on a wheel: you feel bad for the little guy, but then again he’s just a fucking hamster.” Love that sentence.

    I expect to catch this on DVD but am in no rush. I don’t think much of Redford as an actor, and maybe this is his way of raising his stature, so to speak: invest a performance with seriousness without being troubled to act.


    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      It’s the kind of thing you go into hoping to win an Oscar.

      I don’t know what to think of Redford. One of those actors I’ve never had much of an opinion on. Can’t say I dislike him, but then again I can’t recall ever liking him either.


  5. simon says:

    You went to see a movie staring a pretty boy actor who could never act and is no longer pretty. Why? why can’t the man find a script like three days of the condor were you just let him loose on his mark and told him to be himself: confused, dim while the things happened around him. no other direction needed. why can’t redford do whatever it is that warren beatty does with himself these days. why when then mans to old to remember his lines does someone make a bespoke script just for him. why does he have to be the one actor in all of Hollywood to proud to see a plastic surgeon. why can’t land prices in Utah collapse. why?


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