If you were to say to me that there is a film that's almost two hours long, has a cast of one person and perhaps only ten on-screen spoken words in it, I'd tell you that you just described one of the most boring movies ever made. The good news is that you didn't ask me that since I'm someone who doesn't like to admit when I'm wrong. The better news is that those three characteristics describe All is Lost and it's far from boring.
There's only a handful of actors out there that could pull off 100% of the screen time in a movie and rarely say a thing. Robert Redford is one of them. Sure, we all like it a lot more when he does say stuff and we also liked him a lot more when he was younger and making us wish we had half his charisma, but there is something about him that makes it hard to look away. Writer/Director JC Chandor (Margin Call) knew that which is why he cast him in this film-of-one.
The movie is about a man lost at sea after his yacht hits floating debree in the middle of the Indian Ocean. That accident happens as soon as the film starts. You don't get any Hollywood backstory that shows him at a retirement party or kissing his wife goodbye or even him setting sail. It's accident and then nothing but survival. The fact that Chandor cast a 77-year-old man as this guy says a lot about going against expectations. 99.9% of the time this would be a young actor looking to set himself up for an Oscar but in the case of All is Lost, it's someone who wanted to do this because they felt it was a challenge and a film that had something to say.
Because you're presented with zero information about this guy, including his name, means you get to project whatever backstory you want on him. I chose to go with someone who's a widdower, has a few kids he never sees, who said he would sail around the world but never did it when he was younger. Am I right? It doesn't matter because it's whatever you want. You can make him a hero, a villain, guilty, sorry, desperate, anything. It's really exciting to have a character like that because it makes the story whatevert you want it to be. Is he running from something? Running to something? Searching for God? Heartbroken? It's totally up to you.
The other interesting thing about the story is that it's one of the only survival films I can think of where the main character does everything right. It seems that in these types of movies there are always mistakes made where you find yourself yelling at the screen, "No! You'll need that fresh water! Don't leave that gun on the beach!" Redford thinks of everything and through no fault of his own, he finds struggles out in the open ocean still. If that seems like it would make the film get a little tedious, you'd be right. It's certainly a long-ass movie because each scene seems to be repetitive after a while but that still doesn't make them boring.
All is Lost is one of those movies that you'll probably never see again but you're always glad you saw it. It's well directed and the story is so simple that it's daring. Redford is pretty captivating as a man who's fighting with nature to stay alive. You're pulling for him even when you don't know if he's someone worth pulling for. It feels more like an exciting art film than an actual popcorn-chomper but in an Oscar season full of big epics, fancy FX and typical feel-good dramas, this film is far from lost.