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All is Lost

All is Lost is a hard film to critique. It is a well-made film. It is a well-acted film. It is exactly the film that its creators were trying to make. However, I did not enjoy any of it.

Robert Redford plays an unnamed man who wakes up on his yacht to find that he’s hit some floating cargo. He manages to free the boat, but not without creating an enormous hole in its side. Hundreds of miles from shore, Redford must rely on his wits to survive an ever-increasing number of obstacles as everything that can go wrong does. If the plot sounds a little slight, that’s because it is.

This is a fine premise for a film. The cinematography is nice to look at, and Redford gives a remarkably raw performance (the Academy will certainly nominate him, but I doubt he’ll win). Yet, we never get a feel for Redford’s character. For the sake of realism, most of this one-man film is told without dialogue. Because of this, we never get a sense of who he is much less get to identify with him. The silent films of yore relied on title cards or stylized acting to develop their characters. In a film this reserved, we’re left with nothing. If you don’t know a character, you have no reason to care about them or get invested in their story. It doesn’t help that the film is relentlessly down beat. Every time our hero triumphs, his situation immediately gets worse. Once the film reaches its ambiguous climax, we are left wondering if it had any point at all. I’m not saying that good movies can’t be depressing or nihilist. But if you look at the great nihilist films - Taxi Driver, Sunset Boulevard, Night of the Living Dead - they all had interesting characters and illustrated something deeply wrong with society. They weren’t unpleasant just to be unpleasant.

All is Lost has craft to spare. What it needs is a reason to exist.

Rating: * ½ out of *****.

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