ALL IS LOST is the type of film I root for. Visual storytelling at its finest, with almost no dialogue, and only one actor on camera in the entire film. Robert Redford took a huge chance by agreeing to appear in this film. The film is beautiful visually and it is really refreshing to see a film that tells the audience what is going on visually, rather than having people sit around and talk about it.
However, the film has problems. The biggest problem is the choice to exclude any personal information about the lead character. The movie begins in medias res, with him alone and on a boat that is already damaged. Because we have NO backstory at all, it's very hard to have sympathy for this character. Who is he? Why is he alone? Why is he on a boat off Sumatra if he is American? Not having answers to these questions results in speculation. Is he extremely wealthy? (Probably, from the fact that he has his own yacht, and that really doesn't make him too sympathetic.) Is he unmarried, with no kids? Does he not care if he is going to die? Why isn't he a better seaman? There are multiple points at which is seems like he makes strange choices.
I have to go into SPOILER mode for the rest of this review.
It's impossible to see this movie and not compare it to CAST AWAY. It may be a flawed film, but there were a lot of nice things about that. One was that we get backstory on the character, and (at the end) we get some resolution when he is saved. In ALL IS LOST, we get nothing before and nothing after.
Then we get to Redford's performance. Although it is getting rave reviews, there are a lot of choices for him where he chooses to have no emotional reaction AT ALL to anything that is going on. We just watch him do stuff for much of the film. It's a great moment when, an hour into the film, he finally shows some desperation and aggravation. I wish we had more of that.
There's also the issue of dialog. Not everyone talks to themselves, but I do, a lot, and especially when I am alone. I'm not saying he needs to have soccer ball to talk to, but it seems odd that he never gets discouraged and says "OH CRAP" or anything at all. In fact, even when boats pass him by, he does not yell. This doesn't make any sense at all. To compare it to yet another castaway movie, LIFE OF PI is full of believable dialog when the character is talking to himself, and it makes the character more human and accessible.
Another problem I had was the music. It sounds like something Vangelis would have written for a film 20 years ago. It did not move me at all. And worst of all, it ends WITH A SONG. I would be hard pressed to think of a more inappropriate film for a song.
ALL IS LOST is not completely lost at sea; it's worth watching just for the incredible sound design, but it is a deeply flawed film.