Robert Redford in "All is Lost." (Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures)
Must-See Movies Beyond the Blockbusters
Nature is a cruel mistress. Certainly that's what "Our Man" (Robert Redford) discovers in a late-life solo sail across the Indian Ocean that goes very much awry: a collision with a shipping container, a tempest, sharks and a concussion. Lifeboat, please!
Following a New York Film Festival screening of "All Is Lost," director J. C. Chandor (an Oscar nominee for his dialog-driven debut "Margin Call") said about his existential action movie with an ensemble of one solitary A-list actor, "This guy isn't sailing in this movie. He’s sinking."
And, so, for Robert Redford, who won an Oscar for directing "Ordinary People" in 1981, and a second, honorary award in 2002, this role serves as a capstone in his acting career. It's a reminder, for all the annual Sundance buzz, that Redford's an actor first-and-foremost. If he's seeking anything in this performance, it's purity. He doesn't so much play to the camera, as tolerate it, showing that, even at 77, he's so much more than a pretty face, a buttery voice and an athletic physique.
With only a few words of dialog, and most of them expletives, Redford gives shape and depth to an upper-middle class everyman struggling through the worst experience of his life. Will he go beyond common endurance or will he capsize? With hardly any backstory except a suggestion that this nameless senior has been somewhat of a disappointment to himself and his loved ones, the audience remains ignorant to his biographical details, but they come to know the man at his most elemental.
“All Is Lost” could be a bookend to “Gravity” – not space, just sea -- without the jaw-dropping benefit of 3D but riding on Chandor’s infinitely superior script, 31 pages of muscle and action. The movie fits neatly into the very American theme of man versus nature, one that Redford explored in his 1972 mountain man movie "Jeremiah Johnson," directed by Sidney Pollack.
With its simplicity and loneliness – no romantic B plot, no George Clooney one-liners to crack the tension – "All Is Lost" echoes the nature as bitch goddess adventure stories of Jack London, like the much-anthologized "To Build a Fire," where a man lost in the frozen wilderness with only his dog contemplates crawling into the animal’s skin for warmth. Those spare, masculine tales also influenced George Lucas and “Star Wars.” Who can forget the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Han Solo rescues Luke Skywalker on the ice planet Hoth by cutting open his stinky Tauntaun and stuffing him inside?
Not everyone will find Chandor’s adventure to their taste. There’s a strong stunt element – no dialog, one A-list actor, no minimal visual effects -- and yet the desperate drama is fully realized and true to Chandor and Redford's intentions. As armchair adventurers, we might not have chosen to embark on a solo sail on the open seas to test our mettle. But, now, we have a pretty good approximation of what it might feel like – and whether we, individually, would prevail, or sink, alongside "Our Man."
Bottom Line: All is won by Robert Redford in a performance that defines tour de force.
Watch the trailer for "All Is Lost":
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