There is only one character in "All is Lost." He is an elderly man who does not even have a name. We do not know anything about him except that he is trapped in the open sea in a sinking boat.
From the very beginning, this man's yacht has already met a big accident while out at sea. It has sustained significant damage to its hull, and the water pouring in fast. For the next hour-and-a-half or so, we will see the man struggle to survive the elements with only his sailing skills and wits.
Robert Redford plays our man quietly. I felt it was too quiet. I realize there is a need to keep calm in serious situations like this, but his calm is unreal. There are hardly any words spoken. We do not know how he is feeling except for what we see in his face. Problem is, we hardly see anything on his face as well.
I commend Redford for taking on a very punishing physical role like this given his age. He did as well as his director wanted him to do, and probably more. However, the silent script and limited direction confined what Redford could have done further as an actor.
Having just seen "Life of Pi" and "Gravity" recently (I have not seen Tom Hanks' "Castaway"), we know how a delimiting situation of being stranded alone in a desolate environment could be made more dynamic by innovative storytelling devices. Or else, the film will be as bleak as its hopeless setting.
In "All is Lost," in the absence of these innovations, there is a lack of motivation for the audience to root for the protagonist. If the viewer is a non-sailor (which is probably the majority of us), he won't really understand why the man did what he did, whether he did them correctly or not, or why his decisions were such. The insufferable monotony reaches a point where you feel you just want to fast forward the whole film to the end, to see whether the man lives or dies. 4/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."