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Blu-ray Review: 'All is Lost'

Robert Redford in "All is Lost"
Robert Redford in "All is Lost"
Yahoo Images

The Film:

All is Lost” is an ambitious film experiment from J.C. Chandor, who last brought us the fascinating and complex “Margin Call,” which told of the beginning of the financial meltdown. With his latest feature, he simply takes one character (Robert Redford), places him on a boat in the middle of the ocean, and has him fight for survival against obstacles that include damage to his boat from a shipping container he randomly encounters and several deadly storms that threaten to finish the job.

Chandor is to be commended for trying something this bold. I’ve always said that I’m all for filmmakers trying something different and this certainly fits the category. The film is a one-man show that features very little dialogue and, as Chandor himself describes it, is basically one long action sequence. Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t work very well due to how tedious it becomes after a while. Chandor tries to make it a thrilling story of survival, but he fills it with so many mundane activities that by the time you get to the storm sections, there isn’t much of an emotional connection with the main character, which is fundamentally vital to a story like this.

The storm sequences are well done, but they also begin to add to the tedium after a while due to there being so many of them. With there already being a lack of emotional connection to the character, Chandor wasn’t doing his film any favors by having it be endlessly repetitive and mundane, traits which carry over to the second half of the film, where we find Redford simply trying to stay alive after he is forced to retreat to a smaller flotation craft.

Much has been made of Redford’s performance here, and he certainly does an admirable job, but it’s by no means anything special. A major problem is that his character gets lost among the film’s tediousness and heavy special effects. It’s hard to say that the character actually develops at all as all we really ever see him doing are regular activities aboard a ship, followed by trying to face down the storms, and finally trying to survive aboard the emergency craft. Again, Redford does a fine job and holds the film up the best he can, but the material just isn’t worthy of his talents.

The runtime was also one of the film’s biggest setbacks. It runs for about 100 minutes, but the material simply doesn’t support that long a film, especially given that the screenplay is only 32 pages. Chandor may have set out to do something incredibly ambitious, but unfortunately such things don’t always work out, as was sadly the case here. He clearly wanted to make something powerful and engrossing, but due to the simplistic nature of the film, what he ended up with was something dull and forgettable.

Video/Audio:

“All is Lost” comes to Blu-ray in a spectacular 2.40:1 transfer that really shows off the moments of genuine beauty that are contained in Chandor’s film. The picture is sharp and crystal clear throughout the presentation with absolutely no sign of fuzziness. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is flawless, which is great news for a film that is almost entirely reliant on sound effects. All of them are mixed at appropriate levels, resulting in the best possible experience in both the video and audial areas.

Special Features:

Filmmaker Commentary: A commentary track featuring writer/director J.C. Chandor and producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb. A sampling of the track shows that these three don’t really have much of anything interesting to say about the making of the film, instead focusing on far less interesting areas of the production. Perhaps they dig into it better later on, but only explore it further at your own risk.

3 Vignettes: The Story, The Filmmaker: J.C. Chandor, and The Actor: Robert Redford: These are rather superficial looks at the three stated areas of the film, featuring clips with snippets of interviews from the cast and crew. There are a few bits of info to be learned here, but they’re nothing that’s particularly worth watching.

The Sound of All is Lost: A 12-minute featurette that focuses on the important role of sound in the film. If this kind of thing interests you, then you may find it worth a watch, otherwise it’s another one that’s easily skipable.

Big Film, Small Film: Another superficial look at the making of the film, but this time, featuring a lot of behind the scenes footage, so this one is actually worth watching. You may not learn anything from it, but it’s neat to see the process they had to go through to get some of the sequences shot.

Preparing for the Storm: This is by far the best featurette on the disc. It takes you through Chandor’s production process from his thorough sketching of the story via storyboards to mapping out how he was going to shoot certain sequences by filming them using stand-ins. It’s a very interesting look at how the film got made and is definitely worth taking a look at.

Conclusion:

Even if this release had great special features, such as an in-depth commentary and thorough making-of featurettes, the film would still drag it down far too much. With his first feature, Chandor had shown that he was able to tell a thrilling story with interesting characters. As to why he would choose to strip all that away for his next project is anybody’s guess. Whatever the reasoning behind it was, the consequences are plain to see. Hopefully Chandor will be able to acknowledge them and go back to what made him a breakout filmmaker in the first place.

Score: 2.5/5

Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.

Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: Night of the Demons, Witchboard, Dallas Buyers Club, The Fifth Estate, Captain Phillips, You're Next, A Single Shot, Insidious: Chapter 2, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Now playing in theaters: Labor Day, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Also be sure to check out my lists of the Best and Worst Films of 2013.

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