New York Magazine’s David Edelstein writes:
In his late seventies, Robert Redford has never held the camera as magnificently as he does in the survival-at-sea thriller All Is Lost, and it’s not just because he’s the only person in the movie. It’s because solitude is his natural state. He plays an unnamed man forced to solve a series of increasingly urgent problems when a discarded shipping container in the middle of the Indian Ocean rips a hole in his yacht. Redford doesn’t yammer like Sandra Bullock in this month’s other drifting-toward-doom picture, Gravity. Apart from a farewell letter (read in voice-over) in the prologue, he doesn’t utter a syllable until the last twenty minutes or so. But Redford is one of the few actors who can think convincingly onscreen, and the film is designed so that his thinking is the whole show. You watch his eyes flick back and forth as he takes the measure of the space, ties knots, drops sails, and plots charts. You marvel at his equilibrium. And then you see how, as his prospects darken, his sense of mastery—his supreme self-containment—erodes, how emotion finally rises to the surface. For once, Redford stops thinking.
New Yorker’s David Denby:
The film wouldn’t have been as moving with a man of, say, George Clooney’s age; it wouldn’t have had the nobility of endurance to the same degree. Now seventy-seven, Redford is in great shape, and the cheekbones and the jaw, despite a wrinkled shell, have held up—a visual sign of character surmounting age. He does more acting in this movie than he has done in all his earlier movies combined. The anxiety in his eyes as death approaches is unsettling, since it may be something that Redford the man feels, too. His movements become more spasmodic as the character grows weaker, but he’s still quick and capable. At one point, Chandor gives us a heroic image of the sailor at the helm of his craft in the middle of the storm. Heroic, but not hollowly iconic. The movie is too busy attending to Redford’s next task. This is not a contemplative film, even though it (inevitably) asks: What does your existence mean? The answer: You make meaning by doing.
AP’s Jake Coyle:
The story’s minimalism is contrasted by the maximum presence of its star. Redford has always been an actor capable of doing a lot with few and slight gestures, which makes “All Is Lost” a beautiful and noble capstone. Here is, at 77, one of the most charismatic performers in movie history working with both hands tied behind his back. An everyman, to the last.